November 27, 2022

County creates job positions for EMS enhancement program

Six providers will be available to offset struggles felt by volunteer agencies and rural patients

The creation of six permanent part-time positions for the sheriff’s office is the first step in enhancing emergency medical services in Jasper County.

Supervisors approved a resolution on Nov. 8 to add the advanced life support(ALS)/basic life support (BLS) technicians to the Jasper County Sheriff’s Office. Sheriff John Halferty collaborated with human resources to create the six positions, which consist of four new providers and the two currently on staff.

“We would like to hire two additional right now, get them trained with our two current paramedics, evaluate how that goes and cover more days and hours, and then have the option to fill those two additional — for a total of six — as the need increases,” Halferty said at the board of supervisors meeting.

Providers would work 12-hour shifts, the sheriff added, and they would be paid less than what reserve deputies are making because they do not have the reserve deputy certification. Hiring resolutions will still be presented to the supervisors to fill the positions and set the level of pay, county documents state.

Reserve deputies Steve Ashing and Jacob Halferty — the two temporary part-time ALS staff members — are covering approximately 12 days a month. Halferty anticipates the new team of six would double that amount, and there may be a few months where they cover more or cover less.

“We would still cover the 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.,” Halferty said. “By studies, those are the times when we are the shortest on volunteer help because everybody’s working. We can adjust that as the data comes in and we need to shift the hours or cover weekends more. I think that is a potential down the road.”

Halferty is hopeful the sheriff’s office can fill the positions. American Rescue Plan Act funds will be used to pay for the positions and the corresponding equipment that will go along with each provider. Eventually, the county will have to assess the program and determine whether to keep it.

If the board of supervisors do decide the program is needed, then other measures will need to be taken to ensure it is funded. Talsma said the county may have to declare it an essential service and put it to a vote of the people to establish a standalone tax levy to retain the service.

JASPER COUNTY LAUNCHED ALS PILOT PROGRAM THIS YEAR

The board is likely to dissolve the two temporary part-time positions currently filled by the reserve deputies who carried out the ALS pilot program.

In December 2021, the sheriff’s office pitched the idea to have deputies shoulder some EMS work in an effort to relieve the volunteer first responders prevalent in communities outside of Newton. Halferty has stated the program was designed to close gaps for response times. The trial period was to last 18 months.

The county board of supervisors was receptive to Halferty’s idea and allowed him to launch a pilot program. When the board received its $7.22 million in ARPA funds, it and the committee leading recommendations to distribute the federal stimulus money agreed to reserve some for the program.

Jasper County Supervisor Brandon Talsma said the program is a unique opportunity to enhance the services that are already established in the rural communities. Halferty said public safety is a priority for him, and he maintains the program has been a huge benefit to the county.

“We’ve had some success stories, we’ve had some not-so-success stories,” he said. “But we’re going to get better.”

PROGRESS IS GOOD & FEEDBACK IS MOSTLY POSITIVE

Currently, the program has been active for nine months and the two reserve deputies have responded to 141 calls for service, a majority of which are paramedic calls. Halferty said the pilot program has exceeded his expectations and the feedback has been good.

“Sometimes I think we as managers and administrators we get involved too much in the muck, meaning we worry about territory and jurisdiction and billing and that sort of thing,” Halferty said. “But the people working the ground — the paramedics, the responders out there — they’re forming good relationships.”

And they’re working together and communicating with each other. Halferty referenced a mass casualty incident involving severely injured students several weeks ago. Paramedics from the sheriff’s office, three different volunteer services and a helicopter reported to the incident.

When the agencies debriefed, they recognized the benefits of having not just the paramedics but the other first responder teams as well.

“We worked a van rollover where an individual was trapped underneath the van and probably had 20 responders there,” Halferty said. “We had both paramedics who were not only able to use paramedic skills but also their extrication skills with the new tools to help free the individual.”

Paramedics are responding to cardiac arrests, which require a team approach to provide timely patient care. The best feedback Halferty said he has received is having people asking if an ALS car is coming to the scene or if there is a paramedic on duty, proving that word of the program is spreading.

VOLUNTEER PROVIDERS IN RURAL IOWA ARE STRUGGLING

Some have voiced concerns to Halferty alleging the program is taking over the work of other agencies or forcing a territorial acquisition, to which the sheriff has adamantly denied. It is an enhancement rather than a replacement. At the board meeting last week, Halferty continued to defend the program.

“I think the people who say that are the people who are the least involved in their departments and have nothing better to do to be honest with you,” Halferty said. “The people who are out there taking the calls, the volunteers sacrificing the time and hours we see day in and day out, I think it is a pretty good team approach.”

Talsma said he has heard nothing but great things about the program, especially from those who had firsthand interactions with the team. Talsma asked Halferty if he had data regarding the response time of the program. Towards the end of the year he should have that information.

Halferty was upfront about some of the challenges to response time. The sheriff’s office responded to a call, he said, where two other services were paged and were not able to respond with a crew. A third agency and sheriff’s office responded and provided care to the patient.

Volunteer crews in rural areas of Jasper County and all across the state are struggling to provide care. Staffing and turnover are major issues. Halferty has served on the Mingo Fire Department for 22 years. The volunteer squad is struggling, he said, and has the lowest amount of members he has ever seen.

“It’s a challenge. We need more volunteers. I ultimately think down the road … all of these services that are required to provide, I think they’re going to have to start paying staff to be on schedule,” he said. “Because not all of us do it for pay as a volunteer, but it keeps me accountable.”

Christopher Braunschweig

Christopher Braunschweig

Christopher Braunschweig has a strong passion for community journalism and covers city council, school board, politics and general news in Newton, Iowa and Jasper County.