Johnson County Ambulance Service experiencing staffing shortages and increase in potentially delayed service to Johnson County residents

A report, given to the Board of Supervisors on Wednesday, showed a nearly 55 percent increase in ambulances being unavailable to respond to medical calls over the past three years.


Grace Smith

Johnson County holds a virtual meeting for the Board of Supervisors on Nov. 12, 2020.

Clinton Garlock, News Reporter

The Johnson County Ambulance Service has seen an increase in staffing shortages and delayed services over the past three years, according to a report paramedics presented to the Johnson County Board of Supervisors Wednesday.

Between Sept. 1, 2017 and Aug. 31 of this year, paramedics from the Johnson County Ambulance Service saw a 25.92 percent increase in times where only one ambulance was available to respond to medical calls in Johnson County, and a 54.91 percent increase in times where no ambulances were available to respond to medical calls.

“This means that if someone were to have those emergency medical calls, they might not see a Johnson County ambulance responding to them; they may have another ambulance service or a very delayed ambulance from Johnson County,” said Luke Kayser, one of the full-time paramedics who collected the data.

According to the report, these increases in Level 1 and Level 0 availability frequencies corresponded to an average of 8.9 times throughout the day when only one ambulance was available to respond to medical calls, and 2.9 times throughout the day when no Johnson County ambulances were available to respond to emergency medical calls.

The paramedics also found an 8.98 percent increase in call volume with an 18.37 percent increase in call length over the 3 years, along with only a 6.4 percent increase in fully staffed hours. However, the months of April and May in 2020 were taken out of the call volume data due to the effects of COVID-19, which caused a significant decrease in the amount of emergency medical calls made throughout those two months.

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According to Kayser, most of the increases in staffing hours were found on the two busiest days of the week for the ambulance service: Fridays and Saturdays. They also saw substantial decreases in the Level 1 and Level 0 availability frequencies on those days due to the increase in staffing.

“I am of the belief that if we are able to put the same amount of unit hours on all the other days of the week, we would be able to see substantial drops in Level 1 and Level 0 frequency for those days as well,” Kayser said.

Fiona Johnson, the director of the Johnson County Ambulance Service, said they already have begun implementing changes, such as reorganizing paramedic shifts and moving the locations of the response crews, and hope to continue building upon these changes.

“We have made some minor changes based on the data they have already provided to us, and then hopefully based on some changes that we might be able to make in the upcoming fiscal years, some of these issues will be resolved there as well,” Johnson said.

The Johnson County Ambulance Service currently has four separate response zones, each with its own ambulance station. One of the problems that the lack of staffing causes is that ambulances may have to respond to calls outside of their main zone when other ambulances are not available.

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“When we’re not responding within Zone Two… we are experiencing delays and 40 percent of our calls — 509 calls this last year during this time period — had a response time of 9 minutes, and 49 seconds,” Kayser said.

The average response time for emergency medical services in Johnson County is just over seven minutes, with 70 percent of calls arriving in eight minutes, according to the report.

Johnson County Supervisor Rod Sullivan suggested adding an ambulance service to North Liberty in order to alleviate the stress on the Johnson County Ambulance Service, saying that they’ve been talking to the city for almost a decade about such a proposal.

“Not only do they want it for the response time, but people in North Liberty — whether they own businesses or own residential property — pay higher insurance rates because of the absence of an ambulance located in town, and they’d like to fix that as well,” Sullivan said.

Kayser said that his data would support the effectiveness of such a proposal.

“That would significantly help us respond faster to that population, especially North Liberty and the northern side of Coralville, where we are experiencing a lot of calls. That would definitely be very helpful to our ambulance service if we’re able to faster respond to them,” Kayser said.