By Daniel Salazar
Wichita Eagle – July 23, 2015
Submitted by Newz Group Clipping Service – July 31, 2015
Construction of new Emergency Medical Services posts in Derby and northeast Wichita could be delayed under Sedgwick County’s recommended budget.
They are part of more than $16 million in county infrastructure projects originally planned for 2016 or 2017 that would receive less money or be put off for future budget years.
The move aims to eliminate the use of debt to pay for infrastructure projects.
County commissioners who represent the areas affected disagree over whether the EMS post deferrals will put county residents at risk.
But staff members warned in the budget proposal that deferring construction could worsen response times and stress the EMS system.
“Most vulnerable will be those patients with time-critical illnesses and injuries and would manifest in decreased customer satisfaction and increased morbidity and mortality rates,” according to a staff assessment in the budget.
Public safety director Marvin Duncan said the recommendation to delay construction won’t endanger the current EMS system, but the county still needs more ambulance buildings.
“You still need brick-and-mortar places to park (ambulances) and be ready to respond to the different parts of the county rather than just drive around in circles all the time just waiting for things to happen,” Duncan said. “We don’t want to waste fuel and people’s time doing that either.”
The facilities were at different points in the approval process. The land for the northeast post has already been purchased.
The two proposed posts are meant to address expected growth in EMS call demand in northeast Wichita and the southeast Wichita and Derby area. The northeast post was projected to cost $1.1 million, and the southeast post was projected to cost $1.4 million.
Emergency Medical Services currently staffs 15 posts throughout the county.
Two EMS posts in the northeast were relocated in 2012 and 2014 to serve increasing demand near Wesley Medical Center and the Greenwich Heights area to the east, respectively.
Commissioner Dave Unruh, who represents the northeast part of the county, said that left EMS coverage thin in his district.
“So this post…was intended to fill that void and provide the response time,” Unruh said. “It’s located near a growing, strong medical corridor, so that makes for logical placement.”
The county spent about $180,000 in April to buy land for the post near 35th Street North and Webb.
For now, county EMS personnel are using the city’s Fire Station No. 18 on Webb near K-96 as an interim post, Duncan said.
“They agreed to let EMS use that facility so that they can service the northeast area of the county until a post is built out there,” he said.
Unruh said the delay contradicts the county’s move to buy the land.
“We’ve interrupted our strategy, and that’s not a good decision,” Unruh said.
Commissioner Jim Howell, whose district includes Derby and southeastern Wichita, said the southeast area will eventually need another EMS post in addition to the one on Rock Road in Derby.
“But as far as any serious commitment to a southeast post in this year’s budget, that’s never been discussed,” Howell said.
The southeast area has seen an 18 percent increase in 911 calls over the past three years, the staff wrote in the budget proposal.
Duncan said the county puts an ambulance near 47th Street and K-15 during peak hours for EMS calls.
The majority of commission members favor paying for some capital projects in cash, while delaying others, to eliminate the county’s historical use of bonds to pay for its infrastructure improvements.
Howell said the southeast EMS post can wit for future budget years.
“There is no emergency,” he said. “There’s no public safety issue that we’re not providing safety to the people of our community.
“We adjust our watchlist every year, and things go on that list all the time,” Howell said.
But Unruh said the delay will worsen response times in the growing northeast area.
“It is going to disrupt the quality of life and the quality of services and the stability of Sedgwick County government,” Unruh said about the EMS deferral and other delayed projects.
“We’re going to find ourselves behind the curve on being able to provide good, quality services,” he said.
Duncan said the public is still getting the same emergency services it will get in the future. However, he said ambulances that serve the southeast and northeast parts of the county will eventually need a permanent home.
“It’s a temporary solution until we can afford to build the ambulance posts that we need,” Duncan said.