July 16, 2008

Waiting for Ambulance Deal

By Magney, Reid

It's been nearly a year since the start of private mediation on whether the city of La Crosse should start its own ambulance service, but the issue remains unsettled. In the next two weeks, La Crosse City Council and La Crosse County Board members will get separate updates in closed meetings about the mediation with Tri- State Ambulance, officials said Friday.

Mayor Mark Johnsrud hinted there may be some movement.

"I think that the county and the city have come to common terms on a plan of action," Johnsrud said. "We're getting close to an agreement, and that's what we have to inform the council on."

He declined to be more specific about the agreement. Before mediation started last July, the city, county and Tri-State agreed not to discuss negotiations publicly. They also agreed not to approve any deal without a full public hearing first.

County Board Chairman Steve Doyle said he's "not going to be announcing anything other than where we have been, and where we are now, with possible ideas of where we may be going."

At issue is whether the La Crosse Fire Department should start its own ambulance service as a way to improve service to city residents. However, Tri-State Ambulance and some county officials fear a city-only ambulance would hurt service in suburban and rural areas. Tri-State is owned by Gundersen Lutheran Medical Center.

The city council has never voted to go ahead with a fire department ambulance, but city officials believe revenues from patient transportation would pay for the service. When the city talked up the idea last year, Tri-State pushed back, and the county got involved in setting up mediation.

Doyle said county supervisors have been asking for updates in recent months, so he plans to hold a closed session at the regular meeting at 6 p.m. July 7. The city council has . scheduled a special meeting and closed session at 5:45 p.m. Thursday.

"We need to make sure everybody understands what has happened so far, and has a chance to weigh in before any particular direction is selected by either the county board or the city council," Doyle said. "The entire county board has allowed myself and staff to take the lead on this. New and veteran members need to hear what has happened."

Matt Zavadsky, director of Tri-State Ambulance, said he believes the talks have been positive because they resulted in creation of an emergency medical dispatch system earlier this year.

After taking a 911 medical emergency call, a county dispatcher now transfers it to a Gundersen Lutheran dispatcher, who stays on the phone and gives preliminary medical advice until first responders and Tri-State Ambulance paramedics arrive.

"That's actually being provided in the community, which is a huge benefit," Zavadsky said. "Other provisions of the mediation we still continue to discuss, and we are hopeful that the eventual outcome of the mediation process will be a much more enhanced system, and we continue to strive for that goal."

Copyright La Crosse Tribune Jun 28, 2008

(c) 2008 La Crosse Tribune. Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning. All rights Reserved.