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At budget talks, ambulance staff calls for changes
Jun 28, 2013 - By Eric Blom, Staff Writer
Medics and others working with the Fremont County Ambulance department voiced concern about the agency's management this month, calling for the replacement of administrators during a June meeting of the Fremont County Commission.
The county board held an executive session at its meeting with ambulance administrators to discuss the issues.
"I visited with the commissioners yesterday and presented them with the facts and refuted (the employees') allegations," ambulance department director Lauri Wempen said.
She refused to comment further, stating she does not speak about personnel issues publicly.
The complaints came after the ambulance department in May requested more money from the Fremont County Commission in order spend more on personnel - a move Wempen said was necessary partly due to a lack of volunteers.
A full time medic recently quit at the Dubois ambulance station, so on-call volunteers and other employees from throughout the county have been filling in on a rotating basis in the high-country town. Wempen said she wants to add four full-time positions at the Dubois ambulance station, citing difficulties scheduling the volunteers. According to Wempen, most volunteers work during the day, and it is difficult to retain their services if they can't find a job with the ambulance department.
Former emergency medical technician Jan Glassow asserted that volunteers were not the ambulance department's problem, especially in Dubois.
"That couldn't be further from the truth," she said. "That town is full of people who volunteer."
Volunteer emergency medical technicians in Dubois face unique challenges, Glassow said, such as a dispersed population, having to respond in the clothes they wear when they receive a call, difficulty obtaining supplies and costs of traveling to training in the Riverton and Lander areas. She said administration has not been responsive to the needs of Dubois EMTs.
"Our leadership has failed us miserably," Glassow said. "They've harmed our community by running off long-term EMTs."
Glassow asked the commission to conduct an "independent audit" of EMTs who quit the ambulance service in the last three years to find out why they left.
"Remove the current leadership; carefully replace them," Glassow said.
The county board did not offer to take any immediate action.
"We're bordering on personnel issues," Commission Chairman Doug Thompson told Glassow. "I don't think it's appropriate for us to say yes we agree with everything you've said or no."
Ed Kuhlman, communication officer for Dubois search and rescue, said his agency often coordinates with the ambulance department. He said the administrators do not allow his agency to use the same radio frequencies as EMTs.
"We've had several cases where that definitely affected the mission," Kuhlman said. "Sometimes information is not passed on accurately, and if you can monitor (the EMT frequencies) you can't get the information."
Management also requires EMTs to use a digital radio system called Wyolink, Kuhlman said, even when a still-operating analog system sometimes works better.
Physician Aaron Billin spoke in support of the emergency service's administrators at the Commission's June 11 meeting. He is a co-medical director for the ambulance department.
"I have seen a tremendous elevation in the level of care delivered under the current leadership of county EMS," Billin said, describing several medical procedures ambulance crews have been trained to perform in recent years.
He did not think the personnel issues stemmed from the leadership. Instead, he said, "We have a group of people who like doing it their way--who are resistant to change and resistant to improvement."
Thompson said commissioners received the information and will take the facts under advisement. The county board will address the issue at a later meeting.