Fort HealthCare hands keys to Jefferson EMS
JEFFERSON — An open house to celebrate the transition of the Paramedic Intercept Program from Fort HealthCare to Jefferson EMS took place Thursday evening.
The Paramedic Intercept Program serves many communities throughout Jefferson County by providing a paramedic level of care that otherwise would be unavailable. Beginning at 7 a.m. on Thursday, Feb. 1, Jefferson EMS officially will become the provider of the program.
More than 30 people attended the event, which was held at the Jefferson EMS building in Jefferson.
Speakers, all of whom extended thanks to those who touched and were touched by the Paramedic Intercept Program in some way, included Jefferson Mayor Dale Oppermann, Fort HealthCare CEO Mike Wallace, Fort HealthCare’s EMS Medical Director and emergency room physician Dr. Bret Hunt, Jefferson Fire Chief Ron Wegner and past EMS Medical Director Wade Woelfle.
“The EMS building that you’re standing in was constructed in 2015 at a cost of approximately $2 million as part of the city’s long-term commitment to providing quality emergency health care and medical services, not only to the City of Jefferson, but to residents in surrounding townships and areas as well,” Oppermann told attendees. “When the facility was constructed, we knew that the EMS services delivered in our county was likely to change.
“Specifically, it was envisioned that the Jefferson EMS would one day evolve into a paramedic level of service,” he continued. “We recognize tonight as the start of this process.”
Wallace recalled that, in 2000, Fort HealthCare’s leadership “saw a need to improve pre-hospital emergency services.”
Through that foresight, he said, the Paramedic Intercept Program became the first licensed hospital-based program of its kind in the State of Wisconsin.
“It was a good idea back then but, like any good idea, it evolves,” Wallace said. “We looked at the data and we realized the City of Jefferson had the most EMS calls in our service area. So, through various conversations and dialogue and a lot of give-and-take and a few false starts, candidly, here we are today.
“I think we’re onto something,” he added. “To me, this is what’s right about health care. It’s working together to improve the health of the community, and so I really want to thank the city leaders, the City of Jefferson, the paramedics, the personnel, the people that have brought us to this point.”
Wallace said he believes “our best days are in front of us” and that he looks forward to working with the City of Jefferson to help fulfill the mission of improving the health and well-being of the community.
Dr. Hunt spoke next.
“When I took over the reins of this program, it was definitely a program in flux and change and it seems like I’ve been just trying to catch up the whole time I’ve been doing it,” Hunt said. “But, I think, tonight is really about celebrating everything that 799 (the rig number of the intercept vehicle) has brought to the community and looking forward with a positive attitude and a lot of hope as we enter this next phase of what this means for our community.”
Hunt noted that he “cannot really overstate” how much physicians rely on pre-hospital care providers, who essentially are an extension of the physicians’ hands, eyes and ears in the field.
“I’m really excited to see what this is going to bring once we bring this here to Jefferson,” he said. “Working with Ron (Wegner) and Sue (Reinen, Jefferson EMS director), has been great. They’re very capable people, and I just can’t speak highly enough of the paramedics they’ve brought on so far.
“Thank you, guys, for being willing to go on this new journey with us,” Hunt continued. “At 3 a.m. when you’re having chest pain, these are the people you want to knock on your front door to help you through that and get you to the hospital. Thank you so much for all the work you’ve done through 799 and thank you so much for all the hard work you’re going to do as we make this transition.”
Fire Chief Wegner started his remarks by explaining that EMS is a “very dynamic world right now” and that things are changing rapidly.
“We’ve transitioned from the days of load-and-go and drive like a bat out of hell to Fort hospital to bringing the emergency room to your living room or to the side of the road out into that field,” he said. “Helicopters that circle the scene and land and take patients away. Things that didn’t happen a long time ago.”
Wegner said it’s exciting — and just a little nerve-wracking — to be at the forefront of something he believes is going to be a “tremendous service” to citizens throughout the county.
“The days of Joe Lunchbox’ helping out their neighbor after taking an EMT class every few nights over the course of a month or two has now transitioned into college credits and months and months of training and months of schooling and national registry tests and state exams and practical exams,” he noted. “We have really come a long way and really transitioned from what was a couple nights a week over a few months to be able to learn how to safely package — and drive like hell to the hospital — to now being able to do all those things right in a person’s living room.”
The fire chief said that Jefferson EMS Director Sue Reinen is proud of the department’s “group of rock stars.”
“In 2017, we had 1,275 EMS calls answered by our group of rock stars and they answered every single one of them,” Wegner said. “My compliments to our group of rock stars. We’ve got some tremendous people that are working here.
“We’ve gone out and we’ve now hired some more rock stars,” he said in reference to the licensed paramedics recently hired by Jefferson EMS to help staff the Paramedic Intercept Program. “Thank you for taking the time to join us tonight for what we think is going to be an exciting venture for 2018 for Jefferson EMS.”
Woelfle, who served as the Paramedic Intercept Program’s EMS medical director from 2001-12, said he takes pride in the way the program was designed.
“It truly was the prototype for a whole bunch of other programs in the state that were designed maybe not identical, but similar, using a lot of the ideas that we had here,” Woelfle said.
The doctor explained that, in having the program operate out of Fort Memorial Hospital in Fort Atkinson, the paramedics who staffed the Paramedic Intercept Program had the opportunity to remain in the emergency room and see what transpired “over the next three hours” beyond their initial time of care.
“I realize everything needs to evolve and evolving out of the emergency department to here is happening, but I hope we don’t lose that (connection to the emergency department),” Woelfle said. “I really hope that there is some type of arrangement that can happen that on shift or off shift … I hope the new Jefferson 799 paramedics can spend some time with us in the emergency department at Fort.
“Time to pick a doctors brain is time very well used for a paramedic,” he continued. “We write protocols that tend to be complicated. We might have eight different things that they could do and when they can hear that, ‘Well, the first and the second line drugs, I don’t want to do that because of this and I do want to do the third line drug because of this,’ it makes them really think about what they’re doing.”
He said he hopes there is “lots of exchange” between the new program staff and Fort HealthCare’s emergency department.
“Our patients deserve that,” Woelfle said. “I hope there’s lots of cooperation and continued support because the paramedics that we had came in great and left truly elite. I’m very proud of the way this program has been over the last 18 years and I’m looking forward to it staying at that same level.”