The Journal Gazette
Wednesday, November 17, 2021 1:00 am

Ambulance services see no quick fix for staffing

DEVAN FILCHAK | The Journal Gazette

The city's ambulance services will likely remain out of compliance with their city contract until next year, Three Rivers Ambulance Authority's director said Tuesday.

Joel Benz, the ambulance authority's executive director, gave the update regarding the authority's staffing shortage during the Fort Wayne City Council meeting. It was the first time the council heard from Benz since he took the top job in September.

Three Rivers has been under fire by the council since Councilman Russ Jehl, R-2nd, called out the organization in July for not telling the public it had entered an emergency declaration earlier this year. The council was last updated about the ambulance authority in September by Gary Booher, executive director at the time.

Booher, who had been the authority's director since 1989, was set to retire at the end of the year. Immediately following a heated discussion with the council, he moved his retirement up until Oct. 1 and used paid time off for the remainder.

The emergency declaration followed several months in which the Three Rivers contractor, PatientCare EMS Solutions, was out of compliance for unacceptably slow response times. PatientCare is out of compliance each month that medics arrive to 90% or less of top-priority emergencies in the 81/2-minute window the contract specifies.

The contractor's compliance rate was continually dropping, but Benz said the authority steadily held its compliance rate at 70% for a few months.

Benz is optimistic about recruitment efforts to address the staff shortage, he said, but the compliance rate likely won't reach an acceptable level until 2022.

Mike Bureau, the authority's chief operations officer, said Three Rivers has 11 students in its program that pays prospective medics full-time wages to take the accelerated 10-week course.

The authority is also now able to hire former employees as part-time paramedics and nine are interested, Bureau said.

Benz said the first round of the course's graduates will be a fifth of the ambulance authority's workforce. It will just take time to see the impact.

“It takes time to get folks trained and on the streets,” he said.


Red River officials ignore invitation

No representatives from Red River Waste Solutions showed up to the Fort Wayne City Council meeting Tuesday.

The council had invited CEO James Smith to discuss the Texas-based company's bankruptcy filing and ongoing service issues but received no reply. Councilman Russ Jehl, R-2nd, said he will send his colleagues a resolution, likely be discussed at the next meeting, on opening an investigation into Red River.

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