By Sue Botos
In an effort to boost its general fund, City Council is considering legislation that will tack a mileage charge onto the cost of EMS transport provided by the fire division. However, firefighters are asking for a small slice of that proposed charge to enhance the department’s technological abilities.
At a recent regular meeting of council, fire Capt. Kevin Bednarski asked that 1.5 percent of these estimated dollars be earmarked for fire department technology support.
“In the 1970s we were the second department in the state to offer EMS services. Shortly after that, we were the second fire department in the state to offer EKG monitoring,” Bednarski told council, adding that in recent years, the division has “fallen off a bit” from the cutting edge of technology.
Bednarski said that based on an average of 1,500 patient transports per year at two miles each, the $10-a-mile proposal could have raised about $30,000 for the department so far this year. The charge would be levied to insurance companies and Medicare, and with regular EMS billing. Bednarski estimated that the fire division could see almost $1 million over two years.
The department is moving toward paperless reports, according to Bednarski, and startup fees for the appropriate software need to be met. Responding to questioning by Mayor Pam Bobst, Bednarski said that currently there is electronic reporting to Life Force Management Inc., only from the station. The department is looking to technology that will allow the reporting of patient condition to the ambulance billing service directly from the field.
Bobst agreed that the paperless setup would cut administrative costs as well as make it easier to collaborate with surrounding communities.
A new Web-based service would allow full paperless reporting, according to Bednarski. He said that such programs were already being used in Bay Village and North Olmsted, and he gave council information regarding two different methods of implementing the wireless system.
The first included an iPad with 4G service, extended two-year warranty (with a 10-percent discount), case and screen protectors for a cost of $3,008 for two iPads for two years. Another option included upgrading the existing Panasonic Toughbooks with mobile hotspot hardware for all three EMS units for $6,908 for a pair of Toughbooks for two years.
Bednarski later commented via e-mail that the more expensive option was also less user-friendly. He noted that if the deprtment were required to pay the mobile hotspot fee for all three EMS units, the total cost of the Toughbook application would increase to $7,892.
Also pointed out by Bednarski was the fact that the department’s Toughbooks, or mobile reporting devices, were three years old and needed Wi-Fi access, which is not always available, for operation.
“We’ll need startup costs no matter what. A small percentage of the money EMS billing brings in could be used to keep our technology where it used to be,” noted Bednarski.
Bobst countered that the system currently in place was second to none. “Don’t leave this podium letting people think we don’t have a top-notch EMS,” she told Bednarski.
He agreed that the Lifepak defibrillators are the best available, allowing EKGs to be sent directly to hospital monitors. “But Wi-Fi would take the modem from the ambulance,” he added.
Ordinance sponsor Councilman Tom Hunt said last week that Rocky River is the only area community not billing insurance companies for EMS “loaded” mileage.
Bobst said that she would further discuss the topic of technology with fire Chief Chris Flynn and Bednarski. She has found that tools such as iPads are currently being used in pilot projects in other cities. “This may be an opportunity to have some of these items donated, as well as the software,” she stated.
Again stressing the capability of the current system, Bobst stressed, “This is not about patient care, but getting reports submitted on time.” She added the billing money goes into the general fund and that the fire division is part of that fund.
Hunt added, “I see no reason to amend this ordinance at this time.”