PRESS EDITORIAL: Spend relief money for EMS relief

There was a health emergency in a Port Washington home a few weeks ago.

Nine-one-one was called, a city police patrol car arrived a couple of minutes later, the fire chief pulled up right behind the officer.

But that is where the fast response ended.

It took another 20 minutes or more for an emergency medical services professional to appear—because no EMS personnel were on duty in the city.

A paramedic had to drive from Grafton.

How is this acceptable in a competently managed city of 12,000 people that otherwise provides first-rate municipal services that add to a high standard of living in the community? It is not, of course.

The same can be said of other communities in prosperous Ozaukee County that are hard-pressed to provide one of the most basic and essential government services—emergency medical response to residents in peril from sudden sickness or accident.

The long-term remedy will almost certainly be based on an efficient and responsive system of shared services among the fire and EMS departments in the county, but that is a complex cure that will take time to work out.

And just like stricken individuals needing prompt medical attention, Port Washington and similarly stressed communities can’t wait.

Their EMS departments need help now. Call it first aid.

It is no surprise that the root of the problem is money.

Paramedics are in high demand and thus ever more highly paid. Municipal budgets, particularly Port Washington’s, have not kept pace. But help is in sight.

Ozaukee County can provide it, but the moving pieces for the rescue have to get going.

The county has the money to make it happen. It has $8.2 million in federal pandemic relief funds sitting unspent in a bank account, with more on the way.

Ozaukee County Sheriff Jim Johnson, whose deputies in the course of their duties regularly see how staffing shortages are affecting EMS response times to car crashes and other emergencies, is pushing to use some of the federal money to help community EMS units attract and keep the skilled medical personnel they need.

The sheriff is right: A priority in spending what amounts to a fiscal windfall for the county should be EMS aid.

But a framework is needed to equitably distribute the aid, and it is up to community administrators and fire chiefs to take the lead, formulate a plan and work with county officials get it to the County Board for approval to release the funds.

A few skeptics have urged caution in spending relief money in that way on the grounds that it would be an unsustainable stopgap that would not address the need for a long-term solution.

A better way to look at it is that it would be a bridge to the solution that would raise services to an adequate level while an enduring system of providing countywide coverage by emergency medical responders is put together.

The City of Port Washington’s plight illustrates the need. The community’s residents, as one Police and Fire Commission member put it, “deserve to have proper paramedic service, 24-7, 365.” That requires three full-time paramedics, but the city budget calls for funding only two.

The 2022 city budget does include a $25,000 item to be put toward either a study of shared firefighting and EMS services or a new city firehouse.

Port Washington should have a second fire station, but that need does not rise to the urgency of the imperative to provide a reliable corps of medical responders. The shared services study should go forward with the goal of a long-term plan to accomplish that.

 In the meantime, the focus should be on using the county’s federal relief money to provide the relief that is needed now by emergency medical services.


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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

125 E. Main St.
Port Washington, WI 53074
(262) 284-3494


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