Changes possible for Manatee County EMS

Manatee County EMS ambulance
Ambulances are lined up to show four units purchased in previous fiscal years by Manatee County. - Manatee County EMS | Submitted

MANATEE COUNTY – Rumors of a pilot program launching in October to reduce the number of ambulances available to Manatee County residents during overnight hours is a long way from correct, according to Public Safety Director Robert Smith.

Smith said the issue has arisen out of budget discussions, however, the reason that ambulances may be reduced isn’t due to budgetary concerns but worries over the health of emergency medical services personnel.

Currently, EMS workers rotate through a schedule of 24 hours on and 48 hours off the clock. The reasonable expectation, Smith said, is that workers will have some downtime to sleep or rest during the 24-hour work period. With increases in call volume, he said workers at some high volume stations are working for 24 hours straight and with mandatory overtime requirements, some workers are going 48 hours without sleep and yet are still expected to provide medical care to Manatee County residents and visitors. All of the wear and tear on employees is leading to the public safety department seeking creative ways to reduce the stress on workers without adversely affecting the quality of care to residents and visitors.

One of the options under consideration is to reduce the number of ambulance units on the road during some overnight hours. During the day, Manatee County has a maximum of 19 ambulances on the road at any given time. At night, that number drops to a maximum of 18. Smith said while some ambulances run 10 to 15 calls or more at night, other units only run two or three. He said department leaders are looking at the number of calls each unit runs at night to determine if call volumes are low enough to take two to four ambulances offline for a few hours and shift the remaining units around the county to cover those areas. Smith said the project is just in the beginning stages and there’s a lot more data to look at before any decision is made, however, he said he’d be surprised if four ambulances could be taken offline at once.

In the event that an ambulance is removed from the area serviced by West Manatee Fire Rescue, Commissioner Randy Cooper said residents and visitors would be well covered by non-transport advanced life support services from EMS-trained firefighters. Chief Tom Sousa said that because of the county discussions, the district’s Cortez Road Station 2 will most likely be the second of the district’s stations to come online with non-transport ALS (advanced life support) service, hopefully as soon as October. The service is now offered at WMFR’s Holmes Beach station.

Another option Smith said the county is looking at is to remove EMS workers from 24-hour shifts, placing them on 12-hour shifts instead. In the proposed fiscal year 2018-19 county budget, that conversion is estimated at $636,234 and is listed as unfunded.

Before any decisions are made, Smith said, “We still have a lot of homework to do and a lot of data to crunch.” He said the process is just beginning, though when it’s nearer completion and a recommendation emerges, a presentation will be made to county commissioners for consideration.