Plans for the future of emergency medical services in Sedgwick are becoming more concrete, as the city council approved an extension of a current agreement with Halstead Wednesday night for the provision of said services through Dec. 31, 2017 (following approval by the Halstead City Council last week).
Originally intended to sunset at the end of June, Sedgwick re-entered an agreement with Halstead (who it contracted with for EMS assistance in 2016) after relinquishing its own EMS license in March of 2017. While Sedgwick explored its options, including re-establishing its own department, financial limitations led the city to look into establishing a long-term contract with Halstead.
Halstead Mayor Bill Ewert noted a lot of legal aspects remain to be sorted out in a "cumbersome" process, but both parties are aligned in their interest to pursue a longer term (five-year) deal. Approval of the extension will allow negotiations on that deal to continue between Sedgwick City Council members, Halstead council members and Halstead city staff.
Included among the staff members in on negotiations is Halstead EMS Director Anderson Lowe, who noted service has been running smoothly for both parties so far, but there will be some needs if Halstead continues to cover the Sedgwick area.
"When we're talking the longer term...some of the things I'm looking at is what I definitely need," Lowe said. "If we take this long term, we as an agency have to put a third ambulance on."
Adding an ambulance is not a request Lowe has made due to increased call traffic, but rather, he said, it is a needed resource to provide complete coverage in the combined area. Even before Halstead began providing EMS coverage for Sedgwick, there were times Lowe said both ambulances would be out on calls in Halstead — having a third ambulance would alleviate that issue and allow for his department to still cover Sedgwick in those instances.
On top of equipment, Lowe has also brought up the need for two additional personnel during negotiations in order to provide complete coverage in both communities.
Fiscal responsibility with regards to this long-term deal is not only in the minds of Sedgwick officials, either, as it is also something both Ewert and Lowe admitted they are conscious of during the negotiation process — which also happens to coincide with Halstead's budgeting process for 2018. The pair said that maintaining local coverage without any extra costs to Halstead residents is a priority.
"Anything we do with these agreements cannot cost my taxpayers anything," Lowe said. "Everything that we do for Sedgwick will have to come out of the Sedgwick contract negotiation."
Though there were some votes against the contract extension from the Sedgwick City Council, a unified vision to pursue a long-term deal remains. One of the votes against came from council member Thom Noone, who noted his issue came with the language of the extension — particularly in regards to the usage of equipment owned by Sedgwick.
Raising concerns specifically for Noone was the stipulation that all EMS inventory currently owned by Sedgwick (including two vehicles, portable radios, medical supplies, etc.) be conveyed to Halstead to offset the cost of additional staff and expenditures in provision of services from Aug. 1, 2017 to Dec. 31, 2017. While he is still in favor of pursuing a long-term deal, maintaining ownership of that equipment is something he viewed as a last line of defense if something drastic happens.
"It was merely looking for a safety net for the City of Sedgwick," Noone said, "making sure that if something I can't even imagine goes wrong that we still have options."
Lowe did note that while that ownership may transfer, he is thinking about ways to have a continued presence in Sedgwick once a long-term deal is worked out — from utilizing local first responders to maintaining a training room in Sedgwick to keeping a vehicle in the city limits should Sedgwick and Halstead become separated by flooding.
Both cities remain amicable towards negotiations for a long-term deal and making sure that shared service continues to benefit both communities..
"In our several meetings, the representatives for Sedgwick who worked on this agreement have always said that they have been very impressed with the service we have given them and that they're very confident of the future because of their experience they've had with our service," Ewert said. "We intend to continue that great service to them as well as not jeopardizing any of the service that we offer our local residents."