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Alter, Tovo find more funds for EMS

Wednesday, August 18, 2021 by Jo Clifton

As a result of budget amendments provided by City Council members Alison Alter and Kathie Tovo, Austin-Travis County Emergency Medical Services will gain a new deputy medical director and three paramedic practitioners beginning in November. In addition, three EMS division chiefs and three new coordinators for the Office of the Chief Medical Officer are expected to begin work next January. Alter told the Austin Monitor that she had changed the start date because it was not realistic for the new employees to start in October.

The price tag for the new positions is expected to be $1,183,601. In order to fund the new positions, the city will increase the EMS transport fee for all patients, which is expected to bring in about $350,000. In addition, the department anticipates getting an additional $400,000 by charging a nonresident transport fee, plus adding $200,000 to its revenue through the paramedic practitioner program. Both of these fee increases were recommended in a study that found other agencies charging significantly more for the same emergency services.

As Alter noted when she first proposed the additions to the EMS budget, the Loop 360/Davenport fire and EMS station will not be ready for occupancy until the end of Fiscal Year 2022, freeing up cost savings of an estimated $1.5 million.

According to the amendment sponsored by Alter and co-sponsored by Council members Tovo, Vanessa Fuentes, Paige Ellis and Ann Kitchen, the balance of ongoing costs will be covered this year by one-time funding of $233,601. Future costs will be covered by a change in the charity care program reimbursement policy due to happen this fall. According to the budget amendment, “One-time investments for this amendment will come from a combination of the identified one-time funding from revised tax receipts (est. $64,350) and contractual obligations (est. $326,000). The total one-time funding required for this amendment is $297,951.”

One thing that is critical to EMS is to get back to staffing each station with 12 medics. Alter noted that Council had directed staff to bring forward a plan for 12-person staffing over the next four years. She noted that one reason this will take so long is because, “We can’t actually hire those until they graduate from the academy.”

Selena Xie, president of the Austin EMS Association, told the Monitor, “We felt like the City Council did make a lot of great investments in EMS. They funded necessary downtown equipment so we can appropriately respond” when needed. She noted that the city has not been able to hire as many paramedics as they need, but added, “They were able to put in a budget rider so that when our staffing allows, we will hire 40 (full-time employees).”

Photo made available through a Creative Commons license.

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