City enters into agreement with Medstar for ambulance service

BURTON — Officials have entered into a service agreement with Medstar, EMS and mobile healthcare provider, for exclusive ambulance service to the city.

Burton Fire Chief Kirk Wilkinson announced the agreement at the July 8 city council meeting where he said Burton will now receive exclusive ambulance service with 8-minute guaranteed response, free of charge to the city’s coffers.

The move follows a similar agreement the City of Davison City, Davison Township and Richfield Township announced in early July.

A recent announcement by the Genesee County Medical Control Authority, which oversees 911, that there have been 13 or 14 instances where the county has three or fewer available EMS units to respond to a 911 call since Halloween, prompted the service agreements in both the Davison area and Burton.

Until recently, Genesee County 911 didn’t honor municipal contracts for emergency services, creating what some have called a “cut-throat, free-for-all atmosphere” between ambulance companies in the county.

Wilkinson said the growing ambulance shortage and the lack of EMT and EMS employees post-COVID-19 lockdown, led to the decision.

“We’ve had a great ambulance shortage in Genesee County,” he told the council. “We’ve had delayed response times here in Burton because we’ve had to wait for ambulances to come from across the county.”

Wilkinson also said there were times medical calls were put out and fire departments that run medical calls, like in the Davison-area, had to respond because they have been told there is no ambulance available.

With response times increasingly on the rise, Wilkinson said Burton was approached by Medstar Ambulance and had some discussions with them before entering into a partnership agreement with them to provide EMS service exclusively to Burton.

“They will provide EMS service, guaranteed,” he said. “We will have EMS response within 8 minutes on 90 percent of the calls on major medical emergencies in the city of Burton. And because they are such a large company, owned by Henry Ford Hospital, Ascension Medical Group and McLaren Medical Group they have the ability to transfer ambulance from one county to another.

“So, if there was something major going on in our city, like another Burton Place (fire) where we had over 20 ambulances there with the fire there. They are one of the few ambulance companies in the state that can handle something like that, single-handedly’ said Wilkinson. “So, this is greatly going to enhance EMS service in Burton. This is going to guarantee our residents will have an ambulance If they call.”

He said Medstar is currently in talks with other municipalities around Burton to do the same thing. As more municipalities get on board, Medstar, a non-profit ambulance service, will enhance the service and its ability to ensure that when a resident from one of those municipalities calls 911 for an ambulance, one will be readily available.

Currently, ambulances from several companies base themselves around Genesee County, mostly near Flint, and wait for calls to come in. Wilkinson said with this agreement Medstar will base directly in the community with ambulances at each fire station’s parking lot.

He said the agreement

Also guaranteed us we will get a report every 90 days with statistics on the number of medicals they went to, average response times, how many times if any they did not meet the required time frame and stuff like that.

They also look at the statistics on the times of the day when they have the most activity so they can add more ambulances at that time. In the middle of the night, if they see there’s not much activity, they can pull those resources out.

“This is going to be a huge thing for ensuring our residents are taken care of and we are providing the best public safety to our residents that we possibly can.”

Council Vice President Greg Fenner asked if the agreement excludes any other ambulances from operating inside Burton.

Wilkinson said it does, unless for some reason Medstar is unavailable and has no other ambulances available to respond.

“So, if Swartz was five minutes away and Medstar is eight, they’re going to say they are going to be there within eight minutes, but there’s some instance where (another service) might be faster?” he asked. “I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around this…this is going to be the only ambulance service that operates in our city.”

Wilkinson said agreements like this is how ambulance service operate across the nation, but he said Genesee County has been an anomaly for years and that’s part of what has led to the shortage problem. Ambulances currently just drive to where they want to park and wait for calls.

“We’ve weighed the pros and cons of it and if we don’t enter into something like this, we can’t ensure that ANY ambulance will be available,” he said. “We’re hearing more and more that there is no ambulance available and response times are increasing.”

Wilkinson said he thinks in the very near future, most municipalities in Genesee County are going to enter into service agreements for ambulance service. 911 is even telling authorities that with delays and ambulance shortages it’s not a 911 problem, but instead it’s each municipality’s problem.

Wilkinson said the ambulances will operate with two EMTs onboard, while others will have one EMT and one paramedic. Burton will also still receive paramedic support from the Genesee County Sheriff’s Department.

The agreement is for five-years with a 90-day opt-out clause, he said.

Councilwoman Tina Conley asked if Medstar would be paying for the entire service, while Wilkinson said they would.

“Having these agreements is going to benefit (Medstar), too. They will see an increase in calls so they will see an increase in medical billing,” said Wilkinson. “One of the advantages of Medstar, unlike the other ambulance companies in the area, they are a non-profit organization, where the other ambulance companies are all businesses, all for profit-ambulance companies. Hopefully that will keep the billing costs down for our residents as well.”

Medstar is operated by Henry Ford Health Systems, Ascension Medical Group and McLaren Medical Group.

“This is good news then for our Burton residents,” said Conley.

Councilman Danny Wells asked when this was all decided and questioned why this couldn’t have waited until the July 8 meeting, adding he thought a representative from Medstar should have been present.,

Wilkinson said he would try to have one at the next meeting.

“After the fact, I’d like to have one of their guys come in and talk to us next meeting,” said Wells. “I’m not saying Chief Wilkinson is telling us anything that isn’t right, but we ought to know about this. This is a big deal. This is a life and death situation, literally.”

Just prior to the city council meeting that night, Medstar’s LifeFlight Helicopter held an action training exercise at Bentley High School, 1150 N. Belsay Rd., in Burton.

The exercise was part of a 61-hour Emergency Medical Responder (EMR) course Medstar is providing to 28 Genesee County firefighters.

“Medstar supports communities in their roles in the EMS system whenever we can,” said Kolby Miller, Medstar CEO, in a statement to the media. “This air medical training prepares firefighters in the EMR program to serve critically ill and injured patients who require helicopter transportation.”

The Burton Fire Department donated classroom space to host the course, the press release from Medstar said.