County EMS director updates Marion council on challenges

Marion City Council listened as Ed Debesis, Marion County Emergency Medical Services director, talked about the challenges facing the county at its May 23 meeting.

“Right now, Hillsboro and Marion are hurting for EMS personnel,” Debesis said.

“Marion has one person that is here during the day, so for the most part is a first responder.”

Hillsboro, on the other hand, is “hit and miss,” he said. Sometimes two people able to respond in Hillsboro and sometimes only one.

At other times, Debesis said, Marion and Hillsboro go on runs together, and sometimes Peabody or Florence will cover.

“That’s where we are at right now, and there’s no fast solution,” he said.

During a Marion County commission meeting, Debesis said he spoke to the commissioners about hiring personnel now, but they told him there is no money for that.

No quick fix

“There’s just no fast solution to this,” he said. “I am not an instructor coordinator, so I can’t teach EMT classes.

“We do have one person certified as an instructor coordinator, who just finished teaching first responder class,” he added.

The concern, Debesis said, is that he isn’t going to “throw her back in the mix” on top of the 300-400 hours she does in the ambulance.

“Right now we are stuck,” he said. “I respond if I can to either town. I have been on call for both towns at the same time, but it depends on where the call comes in is which way I will go.”

Councilor John Wheeler, who was sworn in at the same meeting, asked Debesis what he can do to attract personnel.

Pay isn’t attractive

“There is nothing to attract (people) out here,” Debesis said. “We pay $2 an hour call pay and $25 a run. That is not too attractive.”

Councilor Melissa Mermis asked about the 2017 budget process for the county and being able to hire full-time salaried personnel at that time.

“I am looking at putting in the budget for six full-time people,” he said. “Those six would include three paramedics and three EMTs.”

Mermis said: “I think that’s what has to be done, in my opinion.”

Debesis explained the county has six ambulances and five are staffed with volunteers.

“You may get an ambulance from Peabody, Florence Tampa or Marion,” he said.

Mayor Todd Heitschmidt asked what amount would Debesis need to submit for the 2017 budget to hire six people.

“It would be $276,000, and that is just payroll,” he said.

“Our main problem right now is staffing and the people who are staffing the ambulances are getting tired very quickly.”

Debesis even asked both Hillsboro and Marion if they have certified technicians that EMS borrow, which would make a difference.

One city employee asked if it would help to have just a driver, but Debesis said they can’t just have a driver.

“We need to have two technicians,” he said.

Heitschmidt asked if Debesis has worked with counties the size of Marion County that have communities spread out, and if so, what is their modus operandi?

Second largest county

Debesis said the main challenge is that Marion County is the second largest county in the state as far as land mass.

“I can tell you what I know from what I have seen,” Debesis said.

“All the services around us are full-time, and they have at least one, if not two or three trucks. The service I came from had two full-time staffed trucks 24/7 with paramedics.”

Marion County, he said, runs about 1,170 calls a year and of those calls, 258 are non-transfer runs, which means EMS arrives to help get someone off the floor but doesn’t need to go to the hospital.

Debesis also wanted to meet all the city council members

“I have been in EMS for 23 years,” he said, “and I was also a flight paramedic.”

In Mitchell County, he said he ran the EMS department for six years and was with the county for 15 years.

“I have also worked all aspects of EMS—private, city, county—giving me a lot of knowledge.

“I am glad to be in Marion County,” he said. “I like the area having been in Herington for two years when I first started my career.

But the issue of personnel needs to be addressed.

“We need to do something soon before something becomes tragic,” Debesis said.

Other business

In other business, the council:

• accepted a check for $11,232 from Case and Son Insurance as a dividend on its EMC policy.

• watched as City Clerk Tiffany Jeffrey did the swearing-in ceremony for Councilor John Wheeler, who replaces Chad Adkins.

• heard from Mark Chesney with Kansas Power Pool. Chesney was there to provide updates.

• approved Main Street curb and gutter project present by Marty Fredrickson, public works.

• had the opportunity to see the new K-9 unit for Officer Mike Stone and his partner, Legion.

• Department heads provided reports.

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