UPDATE: Concern In Winfield Over Broken Ambulances Sparks Action

By: Jason Tarr Email
By: Jason Tarr Email

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UPDATE: Friday, August, 16, 2013

Concern over the availability of functioning ambulances for the Winfield Area Emergency Medical Service (WAEMS) has sparked area leaders to action.

Winfield Area EMS, the city of Winfield, William Newton Hospital, and Cowley County have agreed to begin a lease/purchase for a new ambulance, according to a joint release. The entities also agreed to move forward with "additional refurbishments and preventative maintenance" on the existing fleet.

All four of the current ambulances are now back up and running and available for calls.

The final adoption of a budget is expected August 19th. At that time, the city and county should be able to support buying the new ambulance later this year with the first payment in 2014, according to the release.

While the new ambulance is a short-term solution, leaders say they are meeting frequently to discuss long-term solutions. Those include creating a county-wide EMS, similar to Butler County and Sedgwick County.

Monday, July 29, 2013

While responding to an emergency medical call Friday night in Udall, Winfield Area EMS technicians realized their ambulance had broken down.

Normally, the unit has four ambulances to rely upon. But one had broken down a couple weeks before. Another had went in for repairs earlier in the week. The one working ambulance was on it's way to Wichita to transport a patient.

With none of its own ambulances left to turn to, they were forced to call upon an EMS unit from a neighboring county to take the patient to the hospital.

"It is very frustrating not only to me but to the technicians," Winfield Area EMS Director Justin Waite said. "We try to provide them with the equipment and tools they need to do their job and they feel like they are let down and they are not able to perform the job they've been trained to do."

Waite says the patient was never put in danger and he says the ambulance is already back up and running.

But he says it's part of a bigger problem that didn't arise overnight.

The unit's ambulances are aging with most now passed the 10-year average lifespan of an ambulance. And with a coverage area of more than 900 square miles, each ambulance drives about 55,000 miles a year.

"Just over time with wear and tear you are going to have electrical issues, mechanical issues and plumbing issues that develop," Waite said.

After Friday night's incident, frustration seemed to boil over.

Concerned technicians and others in the community, started a Facebook group to ask for help. More than 500 people had joined the group by Monday night.

But the question is: Where will that help come from?

Currently, the Winfield Area EMS is a separate entity. It is not controlled by the city of Winfield or by Cowley County. It's overseen by the William Newton Hospital Board of Trustees and the hospital CEO.

The unit receives some funding from city and county taxes. But most of its budget is based off of payments from patients, Waite said.

Last year, the city of Winfield did work out a plan with EMS to provide some vehicle maintenance, Winfield Mayor Greg Thompson said. That maintenance agreement went into affect after the first of this year. While they've made some headway, Thompson says, there's obviously more work to be done.

So, Thompson says, he sees this situation as a "serious issue."

He says already, leaders from the Winfield, Arkansas City, Cowley County, Newton Hospital and Winfield Area EMS have met to discuss solutions. Their discussions have included looking at what other cities and municipalities are doing. They've also talked about possibly bring EMS under the umbrella of the city or another agency.

He says they'll meet again Tuesday to discuss a lease-purchase arrangement. He says that arrangement could provide a short-term solution as leaders continue to search for a long-term solution.

Waite says he's optimistic they'll soon reach some kind of agreement that will help the unit to replace its aging fleet of vehicles with newer vehicles.

In the meantime, he says, they'll keep working hard to serve the citizens of Cowley County. He says the two ambulances that are currently broken will be repaired and should be in service by the end of the week.

"We are doing the best we can with the resources we have available," Waite said.

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