TOWER- With the Tower Area Ambulance Service on track to have a “normal” year, members of the Tower Area Ambulance Commission (TAAC) got their quarterly update on the service’s …
TOWER- With the Tower Area Ambulance Service on track to have a “normal” year, members of the Tower Area Ambulance Commission (TAAC) got their quarterly update on the service’s financials, status of the ambulance replacement fund, and an update on the two Tower ambulances.
The service responded to a total of 401 calls from January through September. Ambulance Supervisor Dena Suihkonen explained if the pace of calls continues at the current pace, the service will be close to 550 calls for the year. In 2019 calls totaled 548, and in 2020 there were only 441 calls, a trend seen across the state due to the pandemic.
“This is bringing us back to a normal year,” said Suihkonen.
Suihkonen said they are closer to providing 24/7 on-call service than ever before, with 72-percent coverage with on-call personnel. There are currently 16 EMTs and 14 EMRs on the service.
Suihkonen said some members of the Tower City Council are working with the service to use the information from the Minnesota Emergency Services Regulatory Board (EMSRB) report submitted in August to find ways to improve the care provided as well as the financial stability of the service.
But the biggest issue facing the service is the need to purchase another ambulance. The serviceʼs older ambulance is in only fair condition, and is more difficult for ambulance staff to use, harder to load and unload patients from, and does not have the higher quality medical equipment now offered on the new ambulance.
The ambulance commission consists of representatives from the area townships, along with the city of Tower, who are in the ambulance service area. Area townships and the city each contribute $15 per capita per year to help fund the purchase of new ambulances. While the ambulance purchases were historically done on a predetermined schedule, rising ambulance costs and the falling value of used ambulances (the city historically sold their old ambulances to help fund the purchase of new rigs), has meant the funds being raised are not enough to keep up with the cost of replacement of the rigs on a regular basis.
“We need your help, just like you need our help,” said Suihkonen.
Over the past few years, the commission has struggled with its mission, and whether to focus solely on funding new ambulances, or to give more general oversight to the running of the ambulance service itself.
Eagles Nest TAAC representative Larry McCray noted that his township is “not in the ambulance business.”
“I am not here to tell Tower how to run their business,” he said. “There are smart people here in the city that can figure out how to make the ambulance profitable.”
“You have called for donations,” McCray said, “and that is what you are getting.”
But others appeared to want to be more of a supportive partner to the service.
“We are lucky to have an ambulance,” said Breitung representative Chuck Tekautz. “The service is improving, and your input is important.”
Tekautz noted that Tower is not in the ambulance business, per se, but is a municipality that has an ambulance to serve its residents.
“They can’t do it themselves,” he said.
McCray complimented the current leadership of the ambulance service and noted an article “in a paper that would be good for wrapping fish,” which claimed the service was better under its former leadership.
“That article was a total crock,” he said. “We are getting a better day today, compliments to Dena [Suihkonen].”
Tekautz said it was important for the commission to help generate ideas and opinions on the service in general.
“We do value your opinions,” said Tower representative Kevin Norby.
Lee Peterson, a frequent critic of the ambulance service from Greenwood Township, said that Greenwood was not in the interest of running an ambulance service either.
“Tower owns the ambulance service,” Peterson said. “This group doesn’t.”
Looking at solutions
McCray said he would like to see the commission able to get back on a regular ambulance purchasing schedule once again.
“We will have about $101,000 in the subsidy account at the end of this year,” he said. “And if everything stays the same, $146,000 at the end of 2022 plus the city’s transfer mileage payments.”
“The commission missed two intervals of purchasing,” McCray said. “And there was some smoke and mirrors with money previous to this administration.”
McCray said what was in the past should stay in the past.
“We can’t get blood out of a turnip,” he said.
Tower Councilor David Setterberg, who attended the meeting, said there would be an update on the past ambulance fund issues at the Oct. 14 council meeting.
“I don’t believe the money was ever there,” he said. “That money wasn’t cash.”
McCray asked the commission to consider asking for a one-time extra payment in 2023, effectively paying a double subsidy payment that year.
“As a one-time venture,” he said, “we could talk to our boards, and raise this money so we can order a new unit in 2022.”
“This would get us back on track,” McCray said.
“It would put Tower back on track for ambulances,” he said.
Greenwood representative Carmen DeLuca said their township residents have resisted calls from the town board to increase their township levy.
“If you want more money, you had better find it yourself,” DeLuca said.
The townships are still waiting for the final version of the 2021 subsidy contract. The city council will be approving the final version at their Oct. 14 meeting.
Norby said the city’s attorney had noted that language inserted at the request of the Greenwood Township attorney was too “one-sided” and the city would be looking to make that indemnification language more balanced for the 2022 contract.
The ambulance commission will meet again on Monday, Nov. 7.
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