RIVER FALLS — As increasing budget deficits threaten the future of River Falls’ EMS department, there is yet to be any action taken on the issue.
At a well-attended inaugural EMS advisory board workshop Oct. 7, River Falls EMS Director Jason Stroud presented the board and city staff with past, current and future financial projections and offered his recommendations to consider.
PREVIOUSLY: Future of River Falls EMS to be discussed Monday
“As I’ve shared with the advisory board on numerous occasions, we’re in some trying financial times, if you will … part of being here tonight is preparing for the future,” Stroud said.
Stroud advised the short-term resolutions are not a sustainable solution for the long-term future and “hanging on to the status quo is not an option.”
River Falls has a few options which will continue to be discussed in the following weeks by city staff and the EMS advisory board, city administrator Scot Simpson said: To do nothing for the department, to “place a band-aid” on the EMS department’s current budget or to move forward with requests for proposals from alternative service delivery providers such as Allina Health.
The situation bears no reflection of the department’s quality of service, Stroud said, and there isn’t “anybody (who) questions the proud history” of River Falls EMS.
River Falls ambulance services began in the early 1970s after the city’s only private ambulance service went out of business, according to the River Falls EMS website. The city’s EMS currently serves an area of 32,000 people, including the per capita program with Clifton, Kinnickinnic, Oak Grove, Pleasant Valley, Prescott, town of River Falls and Troy municipalities.
The current concerning financial status of the department has sat on the backburner in discussions for the past two years, according to Simpson.
Recommendations from Simpson and Stroud urge action to be taken before 2021.
"The city has an obligation to fulfill our EMS service delivery commitments to our neighboring municipalities through 2020. Given the current, and projected, financial constraints facing the EMS system it is best to plan for a transition to occur at the conclusion of 2020, if we are indeed to transition to a non-governmental service provider. This timeline also allows our municipal partners to plan for their service needs beyond 2020." Stroud said in a written statement.
River Falls EMS is facing a decrease in revenue and projected increase in expenses. Expenses are projected to round out at $1.96 million in 2020 with fee-for-service revenue coming in at around $1.28 million, creating an operational deficit of $680,000.
The per capita program would bring in $309,098 in funds, which leaves a resulting deficit of around $370,902.
The city’s next biennial budget cycle begins Jan. 1, 2021. Funds would need to be directed to EMS if the city continues to subsidize EMS operations.
Some influential factors include the addition of staff positions to ensure a baseline level of staffing, current per capita rates not covering the deficit, a growing increase in Medicare and Medicaid patients and decreasing call volume since 2015, Stroud said.
Stroud presented that currently, the department relies heavily on part-time staff to fill 50% of schedule needs which leads to extra overtime or schedule vacancies and budget limitations do not provide capacity for new programs or comprehensive EMS programmatic needs.
While Hudson EMS has undergone similar challenges, Simpson said he strongly advises against drawing parallels and predicting how Hudson EMS' solutions work out in the near future considering their geography and service area density is different from River Falls.
READ MORE: Hudson ambulances approved for sale Oct. 7
River Falls EMS advisory board members voiced a variety of their concerns, including the viability of Prescott’s future service and the possibility of Allina Health making major contract changes if they were to partner.
Member of the advisory board Jean Wespetal, turned to the audience members, some of which were a part of the EMS department, and asked their opinion of Allina as a potential employer.
The majority of those present were in favor of Allina and said they heard they treat their employees well, while one audience member spoke against the proposal to work for a bigger system.
Carole Mottaz, chair of the advisory board, said she was especially concerned the timeline was too short to take action considering other municipalities would be affected and preferred to take on a $30 per capita rate to pull in more revenue.
Current per capita rates sit at either $11 or $28.50 for different municipalities.
Mottaz also said she would argue the advisory board has limited powers in the wake of this issue.
“In terms of this whole process, the way I’m looking at this, this is a courtesy to us tonight, to bring this to us … it is not within our purview. So when it comes back it will be a courtesy again … we are very, very limited,” Mottaz said.
Considerations from the EMS advisory board will be discussed along with other information in a city council workshop Oct. 22.