RIVER FALLS -- In another wave from the wake of EMS department financial sustainability, River Falls is now exploring service provisions from Allina Health.
The city sent requests for proposals to all known non-governmental area EMS service providers in November 2019.
Allina Health and North Memorial were the only two responders. A review workgroup asked Allina Health to present its proposal as a finalist to the EMS advisory board Jan. 6.
It is now River Falls City Council members’ turn to hear from Allina Health Jan. 28 at a workshop session. Allina Health representatives will include Susan Long, EMS vice president of operations and Kevin Miller, EMS deputy chief director of EMS operations and business development.
Council members will have the opportunity to ask questions and discuss at the Jan. 28 public meeting ahead of future regular council meetings.
The River Falls EMS department’s future has been a topic of discussion since early October 2019.
Jason Stroud, River Falls EMS director, said at an initial EMS advisory board discussion that the increases in expenses and lack of revenue from the EMS fee-for-service programs were creating a setback for future sustainability.
Stroud is now the River Falls assistant city administrator; interim EMS Director Katy Frey, a critical care paramedic, took his place.
If the non-governmental agency were chosen to provide services to the River Falls area, council must approve the contract.
A few highlights from Allina Health’s operational proposal include:
Offering employment to all current hires as long as they meet clearance measures including city recommendations and background checks.
Hiring a full-time local leader, which includes the possibility of keeping Frey on board. “Ideally we would like to have a leader from the area, certainly someone living in Wisconsin and who is a part of the community. It’s important to make sure we have that connection, make sure it would be a good fit for us and for city leaders,” Miller said in an interview. Allina Health would involve city leaders in the hiring process and candidate interviews.
All River Falls vehicles would be purchased along with additional selected equipment, totaling $313,000. Miller said that ambulances would remain in local operation and not be taken to outside the proposed coverage areas such as in Minnesota.
Servicing River Falls and Prescott cities and Clifton, Oak Grove, Kinnickinnic, Pleasant Valley, River Falls, Troy and Warren townships.
Maintaining a three-truck coverage including two 24/7 ambulances for River Falls and Prescott and one ambulance based in River Falls Area Hospital for 13 hours a day during peak times.
Continuing to support the community by being available for special events such as safety fairs, football game standbys and parades.
Allina Health’s proposal addressed a few concerns which included response times and fee increases.
Miller said Allina Health has established mechanisms to ensure response times are always being monitored and works to understand whether there might be a pattern.
“When you have a response time exception, which exceeds the amount of time that is more than the maximum amount of time, then we look at that and sometimes you might have mutual aid to Hudson so it’s just a longer distance. Sometimes you might have one where all resources are gone and you really have no resources, it just takes you longer,” Miller said. “We look into that and share notes with the local leaders. That’s what we do with all of our communities, frankly.”
Regarding service fees, Allina Health strives to maintain modest fees to remain in the market according to Miller. In 2019 and 2020, a 3% increase was set to base rates. Allina Health also has negotiations with health insurance to offer rates unavailable through the city’s current services.
Miller denied potential concerns about “jacking up the prices” to “hold people hostage” after the initial contract, which was also addressed in the formal proposal presentation.
“We don’t jack our prices, we just take very modest increases. We have a very strong track record for working with a number of agencies, if that was our philosophy, none of them would stay. We’re not looking for hostages, we’re looking for a partnership,” Miller said. “Allina Health system is a big part of the community with the hospital there. Our goal is to build on the great work that they’ve done. I think there was some rhetoric potentially that we would do some things, possibly even nefarious in nature and that’s just not who we are. We don’t do that. What you see is what you get and we treat our communities really well.”
Allina Health EMS reported having the following in 2019:
120 leaders and support staff
9 bases of operations with a 78-ambulance fleet
An annual operating budget of over $60 million
Recognized as Accredited Center of Excellence
Accredited by Commission on Accreditation of Ambulance Services (external assessments of performance and operation)