Mark Hunter (ozma914) wrote,
Mark Hunter

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next week's column: Base EMS Decisions on Facts and Service


Over a quarter of a century ago, I became a volunteer on the Noble County EMS. There was controversy back then over funding emergency medical services, and my feeling was that in a rural area like Noble County, EMS could not be made profitable on the backs of the patients; that for us it was an organization that needed government support, like fire and police agencies.

I also felt that if someone could make money off EMS, that might become the goal that would make public service secondary. It could also lead to the volunteer EMT’s being pushed aside, because they couldn’t be controlled or kept quiet the way employees who needed to feed their families could.

I was a kid then, and naïve, and if I was right it may have been for reasons other than I thought. Still, fast forward to 2008.

There are no volunteer EMS units left in Noble County. One reason given is that they couldn’t find volunteers to man the trucks, which is true enough. Thanks to increased state and federal mandates, it became difficult for volunteers to put in the time needed to stay certified, which led to burnout for those who tried.

The number of units in the county is less than in the early 80’s, and some of those are now being used for out of county transports as a way of increasing income.

The end result seems to have matched my predictions, which could be an unhappy accident. Still, I stand by my original point: Emergency services should not be sacrificed for the sake of money – not even tax money. (Which doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be as efficient as possible.)

That’s just background. Before we go on, let me point out that there are still dedicated people working for Noble County EMS, it’s come closer to being a break-even organization than I ever imagined it could, and the people of Noble County are being served well.

Still, there’s always room for improvement, and the latest question is whether southwest Noble County is getting shorted in their EMS coverage.

A quick lesson: There are supposed to be six ambulances in our county, in three stations: Kendallville, Albion, and Cromwell. Three are manned 24 hours a day; a fourth, stationed at Kendallville, is manned on weekdays, and helps make non-emergency transports. There should be two unmanned reserve trucks, although I’m told there’s one at this time.

That compares well to the seven that served when I joined the EMS in 1980. The number of runs is up, but there are three to four full time crews now compared to only one at that time, so the trucks can usually get to the scene a lot faster. On the other hand, back then the trucks ran out of five locations instead of just three, so they were spread out more.

There’s one station covering all of western Noble County, located just north of Cromwell – about 2/3 of the way from the south border of Noble County to the north. In fact, there is no ambulance in southern Noble County, unless you want to get technical with the Albion quarters: They’re about a hundred yards are so south of the line that goes east and west through the center of the county.

Now we’re hearing that the residents of southwest Noble County are up in arms over the whole situation, which is no surprise considering they were the last area to lose their volunteer ambulance, and they’ve had a general feeling of being ignored over other issues in the past.

It seems there’ll be some work toward getting a unit there, maybe by sharing it with the folks across the border in Whitley County, which would also mean sharing the cost. It’s a simple case of pursuing the facts, seeing if the benefit justifies the cost, and taking actions, right?

But what are the facts?

A County Commissioner was quoted as saying, “There are more people in Big Lake than there are in Albion.” Another comment made was that the population of that area could actually be more than Kendallville.

That’s a problem, because for years many countywide offices and resources have been going to Kendallville, under the reasoning that “that’s where the center of population is”. It’s been happening for decades -- as recently as the Solid Waste District attempt to put two recycling drop-off points in Kendallville, with none in south, central, or southwest Noble County. If the population of southwest Noble County is greater than Kendallville, why is the Kendallville area given preferential treatment in so many ways?

Well, let’s take a look at it:

According to the 2000 census, the population of Albion was 2,284. At the same time, the population of all 36 square miles of Noble Township – including Big Lake, High Lake, Wolf Lake, and Bear Lake, among other areas – was 2,861. So Albion is larger than Big Lake.

The population of Kendallville at the same time: 9,616. So even if you throw in northwest Whitley County, Kendallville has a larger population.

EMS director Tom Shoemaker said there’s an ambulance available to station at the new Noble Township fire station. That’s great, but is there room there? Has anyone asked the firefighters, or checked what would need to be done to put a career crew at a volunteer firehouse? If that doesn’t work, where does the new ambulance go? Who will pay for the crew? Shoemaker said he could have a paramedic and EMT down there in short order, but someone has to pay the salaries of six people, not two, to man it full time.

When asked if the move can be justified, Shoemaker said no. Does he mean justified monetarily – because a truck dedicated to that area will never have enough run volume to turn a profit – or justified from a standpoint of actual calls? If you live there, you’ll feel differently on that question. On the other hand, you can’t make everyone happy, and you can’t make everything fair.

For instance, there’s one full time police officer protecting the 2,300 people of Albion during an average night shift, but there are only 2-3 Sheriff’s deputies protecting the 47,500 people of Noble County at the same time. That’s an officer for every 23,750 compared to one for every 2,300.

There are variables involved (other city’s officers, State Police), but the point is this: Is a citizen living in Burr Oak of lesser value than one living on South Orange Street? No. But that citizen chose to live in a more rural area, making it a matter of economics and practicality. By the same token, a citizen in Albion must understand that if he calls 911 to report a fire, a volunteer department will have to assemble its personnel, instead of a career crew waiting at the station in a bigger city.

That doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be another ambulance stationed in Noble County. But let’s base our decision about something so critical on facts, reason, and public service – not fear or misinformation. We owe it to the people to get it right.
Tags: column, new era, slightly off the mark
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