ALBION — It’s a problem, but it’s not just Noble County’s issue.
Local emergency responders say there are times that Parkview EMS only has three ambulances — and sometimes just two — on duty in Noble County.
Under terms of a contract with the Noble County Commissioners, Parkview Health is supposed to provide four ambulances in Noble County. The commissioners pay $340,000 per year for that service.
The issue is a lack of EMTs, particularly those willing to work in Noble and LaGrange counties.
But the problem isn’t isolated to those two counties.
The Three Rivers Ambulance Authority, which provides EMS services in Allen County, recently declared its own emergency measures due to low staffing issues. Those staffing issues have created longer response times than the company has promised, according to WANE-TV reporting.
Fort Wayne Councilman Russ Jehl told the television station he would like to know what the Three Rivers Ambulance Authority (TRAA) is doing to help solve long response times for residents. TRAA representatives are expected to attend a July 27 meeting of the Fort Wayne City Council.
A meeting between Noble County city and county officials, as well as local emergency responders, was held with Parkview’s Chad Owen on July 7 at the Noble County office building on Weber Road.
Attendees also included Kendallville Mayor Suzanne Handshoe, Noble County Commissioner Gary Leatherman, Noble County Councilwoman Bernie Lawson and Kendallville City Councilman Jim Dazey.
Owen was sent a list of questions by this newspaper regarding the issue following the meeting. He forwarded those questions to Parkview spokeswoman Tami Bringle who issued the following statement:
“Parkview EMS is committed to providing excellent service to Noble County and other communities in the region. Like other industries in Indiana and across the country, EMS is experiencing a national staffing shortage. Our team is committed to not only managing our short-term needs for coverage, but also our long-term needs to recruit and train more individuals interested in serving their communities through EMS. We are grateful for our partnership with the county and will continue to work together to provide quality care and service. We encourage those who may be interested to visit the Careers section of Parkview.com to see our current job listings.”
As of Thursday afternoon, there were 11 job openings for EMTs on Parkview Health’s website. Five of those positions were advertised for Parkview Regional Medical Center, with two job openings posted for Parkview Huntington and Parkview Whitley. Parkview Noble and Parkview LaGrange each had one job opening posted.
“I thought it went really well,” Albion Fire Chief Bob Amber said of the July 7 meeting. “Parkview self-admitted they don’t have enough staff. Noble County isn’t being staffed with the four ambulances we are accustomed to. Many days it’s three and sometimes it’s two.”
Handshoe said the meeting was called after rumors started to float about a suggestion for Noble County officials to form their own EMS service.
Leatherman said such an undertaking would cost Noble County taxpayers more than $2 million dollars annually in salaries alone.
“There were some frustrations from the fire chiefs about response times,” Leatherman said.
Neither Handshoe nor Leatherman wanted to throw out the proverbial baby with the bathwater.
“Some of the response times aren’t good,” Handshoe said. “Having only two (EMS units) is concerning.
“It’s far better than we can do.”
First responders remain concerned.
“When the wrecker arrives before the EMS, that makes me look bad as a fire chief,” LaOtto Fire Chief Jay Squadrito said.
“It’s very concerning,” Amber said. “The two main (EMS) posts are Kendallville and Cromwell. (Albion) is not in the top two priorities of areas to cover.”
Squadrito took it a step further.
“It’s only a matter of time,” Squadrito said. “The county will only have two trucks. Someone will lose their life from this.”
Leatherman was sympathetic to Parkview’s plight.
“You can’t find enough employees to get the job done,” he said.
The problem is not isolated to EMTs. Volunteer firefighter rolls have suffered for years, and police agencies struggle to find workers, too.
“What is the answer?” Leatherman asked. “I don’t know. We’ve got to attract these people somehow.”
One option discussed at the meeting was to add coursework in emergency response medicine to the IMPACT Institute, which services most high schools in the four-county area of northeastern Indiana. Students there can learn many real-world skills to prep them for jobs immediately after high school graduation.
Amber said the rural nature of Noble and LaGrange counties may make the problem more acute in those two areas, compared to DeKalb County, for example.
“Most of these paramedics don’t live in a rural area,” Amber said. “Noble and LaGrange, it’s farther from home for them.”
“Am I concerned there is adequate ambulance coverage for Noble County in the worst case scenario? Yes I am,” Leatherman said. “I’m hoping for a quick turnaround.”