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Two EMS chief finalists introduce themselves to the public

Tuesday, January 18, 2022 by Amy Smith

Any day now, City Manager Spencer Cronk will announce his choice of two finalists to lead Austin-Travis County Emergency Medical Services.

Interim Chief Jasper Brown and Robert Luckritz, chief operating officer of a multi-state organization in New England that handles EMS, medical transportation and public health, are the two candidates who rose to the top among five finalists. The job posting drew 37 applicants from across the country.

The selection of a new chief is occurring at a critical time. The EMS system is taking on more duties as part of the city’s reimagining public safety endeavor, and the organization, like others across the nation, is transitioning to a community health model while trying to address staffing challenges. Additionally, EMS union members are in the midst of contract negotiations with the city.

The two finalists had the opportunity to discuss their leadership chops at a virtual community input forum last Thursday. Community members were invited to provide feedback on SpeakUp Austin, although any feedback posted was not made available to the public.

Moderator Roy Bright asked each candidate nine questions, and while their responses were roughly similar, Luckritz provided greater detail on various points.

Brown noted his 24 years in Austin, close ties to the community and history with Austin-Travis County EMS, starting in telecommunications and rising through the ranks to serve in several roles. He was named interim chief last year.

Acknowledging the staffing shortages of EMS outfits here and elsewhere, Brown said his department continues to evaluate how best to serve the medical needs of the community. “We continue to be a medical community leader in patient-centered emergency and public health,” he said of Austin-Travis County EMS. “We can’t always just add ambulances to our system – we have to look to other options.” As an example, he cited ATCEMS’ paramedic consultation line that kicked off early in the Covid-19 pandemic to help determine whether a patient needed to go to the hospital.

These telehealth options are still available to those who need medical attention or are having a mental health crisis and need in-person medical attention. Physician assistants – health care professionals who can diagnose, treat and write prescriptions, if necessary – are also joining the EMS fold, Brown said. The aim is to treat patients in their homes, avoiding a costly trip to the hospital.

Asked how he would improve morale to recruit and retain employees, Brown responded that communication is key. “Since becoming chief I’ve made it my number-one goal to be very open,” he said. “I’ve done short videos describing what’s happening during the budget process … telling folks exactly what was happening.” Brown said he’s sent out several videos or emails and hosted a town hall for employees. “They’re hearing directly from me so they know exactly (what’s going on) and it’s not watered down or changed through several different chains of command.”

Like Brown, Luckritz has been in the health care field for more than two decades. He’s served in a few different health care-related jobs, including EMS chief and executive director of Jersey City Medical Center.

Although he is a licensed attorney, Luckritz said EMS is his true calling. “EMS is my life … it’s something that I dedicated my entire career to, but not in the way that many others have. What’s a little bit different for me is the diversity of my experience and the different paths that I’ve taken that keeps bringing me back to this industry.”

On the issue of response and deployment models and what metric he would use to ensure their effectiveness, Luckritz said, “The very first thing you need to do is be open and transparent about everything so that you can hear the feedback … and how they impact front-line providers.”

How these decisions impact the community is equally important, Luckritz said. “I want to know from a utilization standpoint if I am being efficient and responsible with the citizens’ money when it comes to deploying ambulances (and) am I also balancing that in a way that makes sure my staff are being resilient; that they have the rest they need in order to be successful.”

Asked how ATCEMS can continue to be a medical community leader while keeping budget constraints in mind, Luckritz said thinking outside the box is the best way forward. “We have to start thinking how we can be creative about how we deploy our resources in a way that is effective.” This would include “a lot of integration with your chief medical officer and how we elevate programs … how do we make that a new model for us in terms of not only taking people to the hospital but keeping people out of the hospital, and how do we partner with health systems to make that effective.”

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