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Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

Council seeks to bring ambulance service into legal compliance

State EMS regulatory board cites the city’s longtime lack of written on-call schedule

Marshall Helmberger
Posted 5/12/21

TOWER— The city council took steps to improve staffing of the city’s ambulance service, authorizing the hiring of eight new emergency medical responders upon the completion of their …

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Council seeks to bring ambulance service into legal compliance

State EMS regulatory board cites the city’s longtime lack of written on-call schedule


TOWER— The city council took steps to improve staffing of the city’s ambulance service, authorizing the hiring of eight new emergency medical responders upon the completion of their training and licensure, expected later this month. Potential new hires include Shawn Gawboy, John Harju, Jessie Hinkel, Christine Johnson, April Wamhof, Gabby Suihkonen, Hemi Ranua, and Victoria Ranua, all of whom have been undergoing EMR training the past few weeks.
The council also approved the purchase of new scheduling software for the ambulance service in the wake of the council’s decision last month to begin implementing a 24-hour, written on-call schedule. The service has been out of compliance with state law for years for its failure to implement such a schedule and that was a point made emphatically by Charles Soucheray, EMS Specialist with the Minnesota Emergency Medical Services Regulatory Board, or EMSRB.
The EMSRB is in the process of conducting a review of the Tower ambulance service and had conducted interviews with a wide variety of individuals in Tower earlier this month.
“During our interviews, we identified two areas of regulatory concern and offered two recommendations for immediate implementation,” wrote Soucheray in a May 6 memo to the city. Soucheray recommended that the city implement the on-call schedule immediately and that the service initiate what are known as “12-hour agreements” with neighboring ambulance services to designate coverage during periods the Tower service can’t fully staff.
“Typically, we recommend that services undergoing an assessment hold off on making any changes until the final recommendations are presented. However, the team felt that these two recommendations, if implemented now, would improve the situation in Tower, bring the service into compliance, and relieve some pressure on current staff,” Soucheray added.
While the service may not be able to staff all hours on the schedule currently, Soucheray wrote that the schedule will help to identify where staffing gaps exist and make appropriate use of its mutual aid partners.
Under 12-hour agreements, neighboring services would agree to cover any portions of the schedule that the Tower service was unable to fill. The city already has mutual aid agreements with several neighboring departments, but the agreements don’t provide for the kind of gap coverage the EMSRB is recommending.
“This is brand new to us,” said Tower Ambulance Director Dena Suihkonen, “so it will take a little time to research.” Suihkonen said she’ll be exploring the topic and would come back to the council to approve any modified agreements with its mutual aid partners.
The council had questions about the scheduling software and whether the city had the funds to cover the $2,995 cost. Clerk-Treasurer Victoria Ranua said the ambulance service can afford the software and predicted that the product, known as Aladtec, would likely save the city money through improved staff efficiency. Suihkonen noted that the software not only allows ambulance staff to self-schedule, it also calculates the payroll for each employee. Currently, Suihkonen said payroll processing for the ambulance crew is an inefficient three-step process and that the new program will save her time. Since Suihkonen is an hourly employee, that could translate into cost savings for the ambulance service.
River ordinance
In other action, the council approved a recommendation by Ranua to establish a committee to develop a new city ordinance governing the management of the East Two River between the harbor and Lake Vermilion. Ranua noted that the city invested $1.36 million in dredging of the river several years ago, along with additional maintenance costs, which were not well-tracked in the past. She said the river will likely require at least some maintenance dredging every five to fifteen years in-order-to remove sedimentation at the mouth of the river. “There is no funding plan in place for any maintenance activity,” Ranua stated in a prepared agenda memo on the topic. “While grants may be available for this task, it will likely require matching funds for which the city has not planned,” she added.
At the same time, Ranua noted that the city is getting requests to cut through the river pilings to allow residential boat access and that the city has no ordinance in place for how to address those requests and protect the river channel from excess sedimentation.
“An ordinance is the best way to establish allowed uses within the channel over things we have control over,” wrote Ranua.
“I don’t think we can control the river,” said council member Sheldon Majerle. Ranua acknowledged that the Army Corps and the DNR have authority over many aspects of the river, but she said she believes the city does have control over some things. “We can control cutting into the pilings,” she said. As part of developing an ordinance, Ranua said she would reach out to both the Army Corps and the DNR to ensure the city isn’t overstepping its authority. “That should help us generate more information about the city’s role,” she said.
City engineer Matt Bolf agreed that an ordinance would be valuable. “We can control where we’re going to allow cut-ins, how wide they will be and how property owners will stabilize the channel to prevent erosion. We can determine how far a dock sticks out,” he said.
Mayor Orlyn Kringstad and council member Kevin Norby agreed to take part in the ad hoc committee along with the city engineer, the city attorney, and the clerk-treasurer to work on a new ordinance.
In other business, the council:
• Approved an agreement and an encumbrance letter outlining and dedicating funding sources for the Pine Street reconstruction. At the same time, council member Kevin Norby urged the city to identify a contingency plan for any project overruns. The estimated project cost has already increased as a result of rising materials prices, but Bolf agreed with Norby that cost overruns can often occur with projects that involve underground work. “You never know everything that’s down there,” he said. “Not every project is going to have an overage, but it’s wise to budget for that,” he said.
• Canceled plans for a closed session to discuss “threatened litigation” over a dispute centered on the Fair Labor Standards Act.
• Approved a contract with SEH totaling $198,100 to conduct an airport master plan and airport layout plan update. The project will receive 100 percent federal funding.
• Heard a report from grants manager Nancy Larson under public input. Larson said the Arrowhead Regional Development Commission is ready to move forward with a master trails plan for the city beginning on July 1. She said the council will need to appoint a steering committee to work with ARDC in the planning process.
• Heard and approved a request from Jarri Ankrum, with the Tower-Soudan Lake Vermilion Events Board, to cover the cost of lighting fireworks over the 4th of July weekend as well as the cost of additional liability insurance. Ankrum said the events board would reimburse the city 100 percent following the festivities. Currently, the events board plans to stage the fireworks on Saturday night, July 3.
• Heard a report from council member Dave Setterberg that updates to ordinances number 1, 2, 3, and 24 are currently under review by the city attorney.


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