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Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

Tower Ambulance

A reasonable approach is needed to stabilize the services finances


For months, Greenwood Township officials have been bludgeoning the Tower Area Ambulance Service for failing to make required transfer mileage payments to the ambulance replacement fund, a complaint the township has used in part to justify its decision to cease its own payments to the special fund.
Yet, as we report this week, it appears the city has made good on its commitment, albeit due to an error that was recently uncovered after questions posed by the Timberjay. Based on information provided to the Tower City Council this week by Tower Clerk-Treasurer Michael Schultz, it appears the city substantially overpaid to the fund back in 2020, an overpayment that was balanced out by a lesser payment last year than would have otherwise been owed. In other words, the city may have taken a bucket of buckshot over nothing.
Regardless, it was a non-issue from the start. The city, before the error was discovered, never disputed that it owed the money to the replacement fund. The city’s concern was tight cash flow in the ambulance service and the city properly prioritized payment of payroll over filling an inactive fund that is only tapped every few years when a new ambulance is purchased. In the end, it’s the city that would make up any shortfall when a new ambulance arrives, so the city’s delayed payments would have exactly zero impact on the townships.
Which is why none of the other area townships have made an issue of it. Some of them have noted the irony of Greenwood’s complaint, however, given that Greenwood refused to make any contribution to the ambulance replacement fund last year, over issues no more valid than the perception that the city’s mileage payments were late.
Greenwood officials are still complaining that the city failed to deliver a business plan for the ambulance service, even though Greenwood has had the plan in hand for months. Apparently, they’re still steamed because it came later than promised. Good grief.
The desire for a business plan was reasonable, but the timing was off. City officials should have undertaken business planning for the service before converting to a highly-paid on-call model back in 2018. That decision has been a major driver of the service’s financial woes ever since, but city officials worry that adjusting on-call wages now— as state regulators have recommended they do— would impact morale and could lead some ambulance staff to quit. With the current on-call wage scale baked into the cake, there’s not much a business plan can do to turn things around.
That doesn’t seem to be the township’s objective in either case. Greenwood officials seem to believe that if they berate the ambulance service with sufficient vigor, the city will simply throw its hands up and walk away from its well-regarded Basic Life Support service and that, somehow, an even better (and more costly) Advanced Life Support system will magically appear in its place. That’s a pipe dream, as every EMS expert the township has consulted has told them. The city isn’t going to throw away its ambulance service, because city officials recognize that it’s a critical public service that is important for their own residents as well as those of surrounding townships.
Greenwood’s own consultant on the issue told them they need to work with the Tower ambulance and could achieve part-time ALS service within the township if they hired their own paramedic(s) to respond along with Tower staff. That suggestion has been met with inaction by the Greenwood board, which suggests that Greenwood officials aren’t as interested in ALS as they purport.
Besides, as Fortune Bay’s emergency director Jeff Damm noted at a recent meeting of the Tower Ambulance Commission, the Virginia ambulance is already promptly paged to the Tower area for calls in which a need for ALS level care is indicated. He said Tower’s staff can assess the situation, stabilize patients, and assist with any patient transfer as necessary to assist Virginia’s paramedics. Damm, of course, has witnessed this process in person many times, so he can speak from experience. The same can’t be said of those complaining the loudest in Greenwood.
It would be easy to think that logic would prevail and that Greenwood and the city could begin to work cooperatively again. Unfortunately, it seems that personality conflicts are driving much of the rift now. All parties need to set personalities aside and move forward in a way that stabilizes the Tower Ambulance Service’s finances and restores full funding to the ambulance replacement fund. Only then, can a reasonable discussion move forward on ways to enhance the service’s level of care.