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With new EMS chief hire, Cronk shows commitment to change

Wednesday, February 9, 2022 by Amy Smith

In a somewhat surprising move, City Manager Spencer Cronk has selected an outsider with a diverse background as the new chief of Austin-Travis County Emergency Medical Services.

Robert Luckritz, chief operating officer of Transformative Healthcare, an EMS, medical transportation and public health organization in New England, is set to start his new job March 14. City Council is expected to confirm Luckritz’s appointment at its Feb. 17 meeting.

Luckritz and interim EMS Chief Jasper Brown were the top two finalists to emerge from a field of 37 applicants who applied for the top position. The finalists were introduced to the public at a community input meeting last month.

Brown, who has been with Austin-Travis County EMS for 24 years, was appointed to the interim spot in June and had hoped to continue his career as chief of the department. Brown is not a boat-rocker and has admirably led the department for the last eight months; a promotion to chief would not have come as a surprise.

While he did not get the job he wanted, Brown demonstrated his leadership in a memo to department staffers Tuesday morning: “I would like you to join me in welcoming (Luckritz) to our organization,” he wrote. “The most important goal right now is a smooth transition so that Mr. Luckritz and the organization can continue to be successful.”

While Luckritz may be a newcomer to Austin, he is very much an insider in the emergency medical services field and the larger health care industry. Before joining Transformative Healthcare, Luckritz, a licensed attorney, served as EMS chief and CEO of Jersey City Medical Center EMS. He serves on the board of the National Association of EMTs, is a former president of the New Jersey Association of Paramedics, and served on the board of the National Association of Urban Hospitals.

“I am very excited about the opportunity to be the city of Austin’s next EMS chief,” Luckritz said in a press release from the city. “I look forward to creating opportunities to support and empower employees of the department in order to provide exceptional EMS services to the residents of Austin and Travis County.”

Luckritz’s appointment comes at a crucial time for the EMS department. The union is in ongoing negotiations with city labor attorneys, who have already rejected the union’s proposal to increase starting pay for paramedics to $27 an hour. Staffing levels are another concern for the department, which is seeing increasing numbers of retirements and departures for other job opportunities.

Equally important is the department’s transition to a community health model of operation that is dedicated to spending as much time trying to keep people healthy and out of hospitals as it does transporting them to hospitals. The community health model adapts to changes quickly and evolves over time. Luckritz addressed this change during the community meeting last month.

Additionally, EMS is taking on more responsibilities to tackle the mental health component of the city’s reimagining public safety process. Social justice advocates believe that hiring city leaders who embrace the city’s reimagining concept is critical to the policy’s success.

By most accounts, Luckritz checks all the boxes required to take on the big challenges ahead. While it’s no secret that the union favored Luckritz over Brown, members are not accustomed to getting good news, particularly after a long rough patch with Covid-19, Winter Storm Uri, last week’s less severe freeze, and a bit of a rocky start to contract negotiations. Tuesday’s announcement brought relief to the department’s rank and file.

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