April 03, 2014GROSSE POINTE WOODS — City officials are anxious to clear up any misconceptions residents and those in adjacent communities may have over the privatization of the Woods' ambulance service.
On Friday, March 28, Medstar Ambulance took over the city's emergency medical service, which had been handled by city employees. The move to privatization is estimated to save the city $400,000 in the first year.
The change was not without controversy. At the March 21, city council meeting, a standing room only crowd expressed anger over the move, and while the city expected some opposition from residents, it was surprised with the reaction of some city officials from Grosse Pointe Shores.
The Shores, along with all the other Grosse Pointes and Harper Woods, participate in a mutual aid agreement, begun in 1956, which provides assistance to other cities as needed during police, fire and emergency medical runs. It was that mutual aid pact that had some Shores residents and officials expressing concerns mutual aid calls would jeopardize their access to the Shores ambulance and paramedics.
On the contrary, said Woods City Administrator Skip Fincham.
"The privatization of our EMS will ensure that does not happen," Fincham said. "In fact, I agree with Shores Public Safety director John Schulte's statement in the Grosse Pointe News last week where he was quoted as saying, 'We may find ourselves with less mutual aid runs.'"
While a facility similar to the Rivers experiences about 100 ambulance calls a year, many of those are non-emergency calls, such as transporting a patient to a local hospital and back for tests.
"Those non-emergency transport requests will not be handled by our in-house Medstar ambulance," Fincham said. "Just as private ambulance companies handle non-emergency transport for the Sunrise properties, a private ambulance will handle those non-emergency transport calls at the Rivers."
According to Fincham, rather than "swamping" the Shores with mutual aid calls, the privatization will actually result in fewer mutal aid calls, not only for the Rivers, but for all Woods residents.
He explained that Medstar, a major ambulance company, keeps several ambulances in the immediate area because of the proximity to St. John Hospital and Medical Center, and when the dedicated Woods ambulance is called out onto a run, another Medstar ambulance moves into the area, standing by if another call comes in.
Which is exactly what happened last week on Medstar's first day on the job.
"Last Friday Medstar started working in the Woods," he said. "During the first shift, we had two overlapping runs. Under our old system, mutual aid would have been requested. Under the new system, our dedicated in-house ambulance responded to the first call for service and before they were clear of the call, another call came in. A second Medstar ambulance responded and handled that run. Their response time was two minutes on the second call. We did not have to call and deplete our mutual aid neighbor's resources."
Grosse Pointe Shores Public Safety Director John Schulte said he is not concerned with the Shores being pressed into service too often.
"More than likely, based on the back up Mr. Fincham has described that will be provided by Medstar, I anticipate our mutual aid runs may actually decline," Schulte said.
Just as with the former city-run ambulance service, the Woods' Medstar ambulance and crew will be housed at the Woods fire station and staffed with two full-time paramedics, working a 24-hour shift.
"Medstar has assured us that the Woods' ambulance will be staffed with a dedicated crew, meaning they will quickly become familiar with our community and residents," Fincham said. "They will not be rotating different individuals through here."
Woods Public Safety Director Andrew Pazuchowski said he will be meeting with his counterparts from the other Grosse Pointes and Harper Woods to discuss the new Medstar service. He also had high praise for the effectiveness of the mutual aid pact.
"If we didn't depend on each other, we would all be forced to hire additional employees," he noted.
Pazuchowski and Fincham also said they would be happy to meet with any resident, be they from the Woods or the Shores, to address any concerns they may have regarding either the mutual aid pact or the Medstar Ambulance service.