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MDH Board Supports Privatization Plan

Jun 27, 2017

McDonough District Hospital has run the ambulance service in McDonough County since the 1970s.  But the MDH Board of Directors voted Monday night to switch to a privately-run service.

“We think it really puts it in best practices as you look at communities across the country,” said hospital CEO Kenny Boyd.

“Because of our intense focus on treating patients inside the facility and providing what is traditionally thought of as healthcare, emergency medical services – or emergency medical response – is something that’s a little outside the norm for us. We don’t have the in-depth expertise that those staff need.”

He said the emergency medical response system in the community will improve by bringing in a private company that’s focused solely on EMS.

Boyd also said the change will save MDH $150,000-$200,000 per year in operating and capital costs.

MDH CEO Kenny Boyd
Credit Rich Egger

He said it’s uncommon to have a hospital-based ambulance service. He said in most places the service is either privatized or run by the city or county.

Boyd said MDH could have implemented a tax to pay for EMS but the hospital felt the tax burden is already high.

The hospital board approved the plan on a vote of 8-1.  The only holdout was Noel Oliver. He said the plan looked appealing but he felt the change was happening too quickly.  He moved to delay a decision but his motion was defeated, 6-2.

Lifeguard Ambulance Service

Boyd plans to negotiate a contract with Lifeguard Ambulance Service of Birmingham, Alabama.  The company is accredited by CAAS, the Commission on the Accreditation of Ambulance Services.

“They came out on top as kind of the gold standard in the communities that they worked in,” Boyd said. 

He said two other companies were considered.

The emergency wing at MDH
Credit Rich Egger

Lifeguard has 1,100 employees and serves communities in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Missouri, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Texas. This would be its first client in Illinois, though Lifeguard's sister company, Air-Evac Life Team, is operating MDH’s helicopter. It started up in Macomb at the beginning of June. 

Dave Snavely, Vice President of Business Development for Lifeguard, said the company is familiar with MDH and the community

“The presence of our sister company, Air-Evac, allows us to do much more along the lines of continuing education and training for the local first responders and system integration,” he said. 

Snavely also said the company wants to retain as much of the local staff as it can.  He said it’s becoming increasingly difficult to recruit EMS workers.

“The certification requirements, the licensing requirements, and the continuing education requirements keep increasing,” Snavely said.

“You’ve got to find a way to keep people interested in doing all that and provide them a decent wage for their family.”

It might be another month before a contract is signed, and it could be another 90 days after that before Lifeguard is up and running in McDonough County.

City of Macomb Still Reviewing Plan

Where Lifeguard would set up shop in the county has yet to be determined, but it could end up partnering with the city of Macomb.

The main fire station in Macomb
Credit Rich Egger

Mayor Mike Inman said the city is looking into the possibility of allowing the ambulance company -- whether that be the hospital, Lifeguard or another private company -- to operate the service out of the fire station on W. Jackson St.

Inman said about 75% of emergency medical calls in the county are within Macomb’s city limits. He said a partnership makes sense because it will also help keep continuity of service as the hospital steps away after nearly 50 years of providing ambulance service to the county. 

"We are hopeful we can come to an agreement because we believe this [partnership] has the ability to be in the best interest of everyone in the community," Inman said. 

Macomb Mayor Mike Inman
Credit Rich Egger

He said the city is not rushing into anything and still needs to work out some details before the proposal can be approved by the city council. “We have a great reputation in the community as a whole and the region as a whole as being a first class public safety provider and we are not going to do anything to jeopardize that,” Inman said. 

Inman said the city has discussed details of the partnership with Lifeguard and the hospital, mostly over the phone and through email. He said Lifeguard has similar arrangements with other fire departments in the communities it operates in. 

Macomb Fire Chief J.R. Hyde said there could be room to house up to two ambulances in the fire station and a handful of crew members.

Under the city’s proposal, emergency medical calls would be handled differently. As of now, the Macomb Fire Department already routinely responds to non-fire related calls as do other fire departments in the county. The current arrangement with the hospital is that when an emergency medical call comes in, the closest fire department responds with their EMTs and provides health care until the hospital’s ambulances arrive.

Midwest Medical Transport currently operates ambulance services out of Fire Station Number 2 in Macomb
Credit Emily Boyer

In exchange, the hospital provides EMT training to all firefighters.

Macomb Fire Chief J.R. Hyde said the current set up means each medical 911 call ties up equipment and personnel because a fire truck has to respond with 2 or 3 firefighters. 

But under the city’s new partnership proposal, the Macomb Fire Department would send one EMT every time an emergency medical call comes into the county. That firefighter would drive the ambulance, and the ambulance company would send at least one paramedic.

It would be up to the ambulance company to pay the Macomb firefighter an hourly rate for responding to the call to alleviate any burden on tax payers.

City Administrator Dean Torreson said between that hourly wage and the rental fee the company would pay to store the ambulances at the fire department, the partnership could be financially beneficial for the city. Additionally, he said there’s no financial risk for the city.

The city’s proposal also includes details about housing back up ambulances at Macomb’s fire station No. 2 on East Pierce St.

Currently, Midwest Medical Transport of Omaha, Nebraska is renting that space and operating a non-emergency medical transport service. It routinely handles patient transfers between hospitals in the region. It could decide to leave town now that the hospital has announced plans to work solely through Lifeguard.