Jacksonville Battling with Ambulance, EMT Shortage; Consultant Being Hired to Pose Solution

By Benjamin Cox on January 14, 2024 at 9:32pm

The City of Jacksonville has an ambulance shortage problem.

In September, the City of Jacksonville ambulance commission reconvened for the first time since 2018 to discuss ongoing issues with having enough ambulances to answer emergency medical calls in the city. The last time the municipal ambulance commission met was over the swift departure of American Ambulance Service.

Morgan County Emergency Management Coordinator and Director of West Central Joint Dispatch Phil McCarty told the Jacksonville City Council’s Public Protection committee Monday night that dispatchers for the city’s medical calls have been continuously put in a precarious position: “From my standpoint as the director of West Central Joint Dispatch, it puts my line-level staff employees at a decision-making process on a seven-day week, probably 5 1/2 days a week at some point making a decision on where the next ambulance is going to come from to come to the city to transport.”

McCarty says that LifeStar Ambulance Service, who currently owns the only license to operate for emergency call response in the city is not currently meeting the City of Jacksonville’s ordinance requirements of having 3 staffed buses at all times for emergency calls in the city. McCarty says that the recent Ambulance Commission meeting, which included representatives from LifeStar, didn’t produce any answers to the problem: “To paraphrase what happened at the meeting, LifeStart was present at the meeting, and we flat asked them: ‘If you’re not meeting the standard, do we need to change the ordinance to lower it 2 ambulances? Do you think that you could meet the standards if we lowered it to 2?’ And there answer was: ‘Ooh, I’m not sure we can.’ They claimed to have a significant challenge with staffing requirements. This has been the same thing that we’ve heard from LifeStar for, I don’t know, every time we have an ambulance commission meeting. They always have a ‘We can’t do this because…’ They always have a reason. I have no doubt that they do have some staffing concerns. Staffing an EMS today is rough. Staffing healthcare is very difficult.”

According to McCarty, LifeStar missed approximately 20% of the city’s emergency calls in 2023 with nearby rural and volunteer agencies picking up those calls most of the time. Jacksonville Memorial Hospital has recently contracted with a second private company to provide transport-only services for hospital patients. Echo began operations in Jacksonville late last year in an effort to free up LifeStar’s buses to provide more help.

LifeStar is facing similar challenges in nearby Springfield. The Springfield Business Journal and Illinois Times report that the City of Springfield administration and city council are exploring a municipally-owned ambulance service. According to the report, a $280,000 line item appeared in the city’s budget for the next fiscal year to purchase an ambulance to begin the process of setting up the municipal service. Springfield Fire Fighters Local 37 says the need for additional ambulances on the street to respond to medical emergencies is so great that the city should purchase at least one ambulance this coming year and begin formal negotiations with the union to supplement what the three ambulance providers in that city currently offer to residents. LifeStar has already previously been fined by the City of Springfield for not meeting that city’s ordinance requirements.

As a result of the meeting on Monday, the city’s Public Protection Committee will be making a recommendation later this month to bring in an independent consultant to find a path forward for Jacksonville. The cost of the consultant is $60,000 and will be split between the city and the county.

McCarty will provide more of the details on what’s happening and what’s been discussed on the ambulance issue in Jacksonville and the surrounding area in a What’s On Your Mind interview this coming Wednesday.