Judicial and Public Safety discusses EMS updates

The Marquette County Judicial and Public Safety committee met on February 1st, where they heard updates from the EMS Department, discussed collecting bills for Humane Officer incidents, and voted on having a county-hired Medical Examiner instead of an elected Coroner.

At the start of the meeting, EMS Director Robert Lulling gave an update on his department. He told the committee that COVID was hitting their department hard, and they had been down a worker at a time for the past eight weeks because of it.

He then said that they had a new ambulance ordered that will be delivered in January 2023. He planned on eventually replacing all of the department’s ambulances, as they all had bad wiring and electronics, and the vehicle boxes were from the 1980s and 90s. Lulling hopes to use extra revenue to help pay for the new ambulances and feels that they shouldn’t need to use the general fund. They also could potentially use ARPA funds to help offset the costs.

Lastly, he reported that they were also selected to participate in a mandatory Medicare survey called the Ground Ambulance Data Collection Survey. This studies Medicare reimbursement rates and is a 50-page document that is filled out each month that collects data on everything they do and spend money on. This will be completed over the next year and a report will be submitted about halfway into 2023. If they were to not complete the report or if it were to be considered unsatisfactory, they would lose 10% of their Medicare payments. 

Members on the committee asked if there had been any talks about helping out areas like Marquette County that have no hospital in their area of coverage with extra funding. Lulling said he believed that was why they were doing this study now. He thought that they realized that what they paid Marquette County wasn’t cutting it and Lulling hopes that after the study is completed, that Medicare will increase their payments. He did report that Medicaid would be increasing their payments this year, saying that they would get closer to $150 per call for Medicaid patients, rather than $100. Almost 80% of their cases involve Medicare patients, though, and Lulling said that any increase will be huge for that. 

Sheriff Joseph Konrath then reported on how COVID was affecting his office. He said that the jail was healthy with no sick inmates and he thanked Health Director Jayme Sopha for her department’s vaccination efforts in the jail. Then he reported that they had four patrol deputies that were out sick and were being covered by overtime shifts. 

They then discussed the Humane Officer and collecting bills. They had previously had an issue with how collections were done. The contract the Humane Officer has makes it the county’s responsibility to collect citations, but offenders were often able to get their animals back without paying their citation. The county had no real way of enforcing those citizens to pay the citation, based on how things were currently set up. The committee discussed their options for changing this, including tax intercept options and small claims. This will be brought back for further discussion at a future meeting.

Finally, they went into closed session to discuss the position of the Coroner. When they came out of the closed session, they passed a motion that said: to eliminate the position of Coroner once the current term was completed and create the department of Medical Examiner, effective January 1st, 2023. The position will be under the oversight of the County Administrator with fiscal impact to be determined. This action was forwarded to Executive and Finance Committee for further consideration. 

The current office of the Coroner is part-time and since current Coroner Tom Wastart began, the amount of work required has gone up significantly. Wastart had brought this to the committee’s attention previously out of concern for future potential coroners and since then, they had decided to eliminate the office and replace it was a Medical Examiner position. Other counties have done the same and it will allow them to have potentially better qualified individuals in the position. It will also give the County oversight over the position, as it will be no longer an elected position. They plan on transitioning current Coroner Tom Wastart to the new position once the change occurs, if passed by the full county board.