Douglas County Commission to consider paying greater share for emergency medical services

photo by: Chris Conde/Journal-World File Photo

The Douglas County Courthouse is pictured in September 2018.

Douglas County may soon increase its share of spending toward emergency medical services.

The County Commission on Wednesday will consider approving an agreement with the City of Lawrence that revises how to jointly fund and provide emergency medical services, with the county increasing its share of the cost. The proposed agreement is based on recommendations that the city and county received from a review of the Lawrence-Douglas County Fire Medical EMS services conducted by Wichita State University.

Under the proposed agreement, some costs that the county paid separately would become shared with the city, but the county would also increase its portion of expenses for shared costs from approximately 25% to 36%. Currently, the city pays about three-quarters of the shared costs for the service and the county pays the remainder, the Journal-World has reported.

A report on the study provided to the city and the county showed that the study came up with the new funding formula based on the percentage of personnel assigned to direct ambulance services, 36%, and the personnel assigned to fire apparatus, 64%. If the proposal is approved, it would become active under the county’s 2022 budget, which begins next January.

County Administrator Sarah Plinsky told the Journal-World that she does not yet know how the new cost-share plan would affect the county’s spending, as the county is currently in the process of crafting its 2022 budget. But she noted that the report showed the 2019 costs under the change would have increased the county’s share by about $1 million for a total of $8.5 million. Meanwhile, the city’s cost would have dropped about the same amount to a total of $13.8 million.

Plinsky said that under the current agreement both the city and county had expenses they were fully responsible for and then remaining expenses were split with approximately 75% to the city and 25% to the county. The county is fully responsible for EMS-only costs, plus the Eudora ambulance services staff, and the city is responsible for non-EMS and fire costs, according to the study. But under the proposed agreement, the cost for the Eudora ambulance service staff would become a shared cost and would be part of the 36%-64% split.

Additionally, the agreement would have the county begin paying part of an internal service fee to the city, which covers administrative expenses provided by the city such as IT and payroll services. According to the proposed agreement, the county would also pay 36% of the administrative fee, which would have been an additional $800,000, for a total of $9.3 million, in 2019, according to the report on the study.

As the Journal-World previously reported, the funding agreement originated in 1996, when the city and county agreed to consolidate the countywide EMS with the City of Lawrence Fire Department, resulting in the current Lawrence-Douglas County Fire Medical department. Though the agreement has been in place for 25 years, the funding allocations have not changed significantly in that time.

The current agreement covers how EMS is provided and funded within unincorporated Douglas County and the cities of Lawrence, Baldwin City, Eudora and Lecompton.

In June 2020, the city, county and the International Association of Firefighters Local 1596 selected Wichita State to conduct the study on the current agreement and service delivery model. The review found that how the department was funded seems to have been arrived at in a somewhat arbitrary manner, and it offered the proposed change in its place.

The County Commission will convene at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday for its regular business meeting at the county courthouse, 1100 Massachusetts St. Residents can participate in the meeting in person or virtually, and a link for the public to watch live online is available on the county’s website, Residents may also call in and listen by phone by dialing 1-312-626-6799 and entering meeting ID 977 8664 5286.

Contact Dylan Lysen

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