The council was asked last week to approve four part-time positions, two of which were included in the budget, to help the service respond to its calls. Since the request means spending an additional $10,000, the matter was tabled for a public hearing next month.
In addition, the town council was told to expect some "bumps in the road" regarding ambulance billing because of some changes in Medicare.
Mel Thurlow, the ambulance service supervisor, said Monday that there are 12 emergency medical technicians on staff but most have full-time jobs elsewhere, many of which are out of town. He said it used to be that employers would allow an EMT to respond to an emergency situation when needed and then return to work. But the weakening of the economy and downsizing has prevented many from continuing the practice.
"It's absolutely not a question of numbers of staff, just their availability during the day," Thurlow said.
The town-owned Dexter ambulance responds on average to two runs a day, according to Thurlow. He said he had three people interested in applying for the positions, people who would find alternate weekend and evening jobs to help supplement their incomes. The ideal situation, he said, would be to have two additional daytime drivers and two emergency medical technicians on staff.
Because the town wants to avoid paying benefits, the new hires will work under 30 hours a week, Thurlow said. He noted that the pay is only $1 per hour to remain on call at the station. The hourly rate for someone at the intermediate level when responding to a call is $8.15.
Thurlow recognizes that Dexter is not facing this crisis alone. "It's affecting every ambulance in the state that operates with volunteers," he said.
Regarding billing for ambulance calls, Town Manager Robert Simpson said Monday that it appears Medicare will no longer accept billing from two ambulances which respond to the same call. Oftentimes, the Dexter Ambulance service must request advanced life support assistance from Mayo Regional Hospital's ambulance service for certain calls.
Another wrinkle is that the town's ambulance billing firm is going out of business, Simpson said. He expects the town office crew will pick up the function once the firm closes.
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