Digging into the past may help shape the future of Manatee County EMS.
By looking at data from the last few years, Manatee County officials will evaluate ways to relieve exhausted EMS crews and continue to serve the community.
They hope to start a year-long pilot program that will decrease the number of ambulances making runs at night, EMS Chief Paul DiCicco said.
Currently, there are 19 ambulances during the day and 18 at night.
The pilot program will allow them to decrease the number of ambulances running at night on a trial basis, with the ability to monitor the process and make changes as they go, according to DiCicco.
The idea, he said, is to give EMS crews more resources during peak hours between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m., when they have found themselves shorthanded. Between midnight and 7 a.m., DiCicco said EMS averages 24 to 32 calls, and they don’t need all of those ambulances to answer those calls.
Cutting back at night would allow EMS to run more reserves during the day.
Part of the program will be evaluating call run data to determine which ambulances will not run at night. Another factor in the number of calls is the time of year, so that will also be considered during the program, noted Bob Smith, director of public safety.
“Depending on where they’re at, we’ll look at pulling that truck after a certain point at night and move trucks closer to it to cover that zone,” Smith said.
Though ambulances have stations they are committed to, the county runs on a “closest unit response.” Smith said there are days ambulances leave their stations and may only return a couple of times because they’re responding to other emergencies as they move around the county.
Smith says they’ll use data to determine which ambulance stations respond to few calls at night and can close. Then they will have other nearby ambulances cover that zone. It’s similar to what they do if an ambulance needs to go out of service for maintenance or is responding to another call.
“Rarely do we have all of them available at any given time,” Smith said.
“It’s not really any different than the way we operate anyway, just people aren’t usually aware of it,” Smith said.
DiCicco said they likely will focus on more urban area stations, since there are more of them in a smaller area. He said with less traffic at night, it should not impact response times in those areas.
Ambulances in eastern and northern parts of the county, as well as Anna Maria Island, won’t be shut down at night, according to DiCicco.
“The way we’ve designed this project, this plan, is the effect would be minimal,” DiCicco said.
DiCicco hopes the move will improve response times during peak hours, with more ambulances available.
“By making this change, it kind of spreads unit usage across the fleet,” DiCicco said. “I expect it will be positive.”
On the other hand, some crews are being drained. The demands of call volume have made the usual 24-hour shifts for EMS personnel too busy, Smith and DiCicco said. It’s a schedule EMS employees have been working on for decades, but it’s not working anymore, especially with occasional mandatory overtime.
Smith said there used to be an expectation that at night, call volume would drop enough that crews could rest.
“But now that’s just not happening,” Smith said. “Trucks are running 10 to 14 calls overnight, so crews aren’t getting any down time and working 24 hours straight.”
Now crews who usually work those busier nights will be split into 12-hour shifts so they are better rested.
Smith says they are still in the early stages and October, the beginning of the fiscal year, would be an “ideal time” to start the program, but it could be later than that. At the end of the 12-month trial program, Smith said they will present the results and findings to the county commissioners.
The program was first discussed with Manatee County administration in April, DiCicco said. Since then, they created a focus group of employees and leadership and have started work on a deployment strategy.