Consultants: ‘Keep status quo,’ don’t contract out for EMS

City leaders urged to keep emergency medical, transport services in-house with C-W Fire Department

Results from an in-depth, 126-page report on emergency medical services in the Camas-Washougal area show that city leaders’ best, most cost-effective option is to maintain the status quo.

City-funded consultants from Emergency Services Consulting International met with city leaders in Camas and Washougal this week and urged them to keep the area’s medics and medical transport services in-house with the Camas-Washougal Fire Department instead of contracting out to private providers or entering into an agreement with Vancouver to use that city’s emergency transport services.

“We recommend that you maintain status quo,” consultant John Stouffer told the Camas City Council at a June 19 workshop. “We firmly believe the best thing for the community is to continue to provide emergency (services) and medical transport.”

Camas Mayor Scott Higgins said council members needed to digest the entire report, due to come out in its finalized version later this week, before committing to a decision.

Stouffer presented similar information to Washougal City Council members at that council’s June 17 retreat and said the council seemed to be in agreement with the consultants’ recommendation and discussed putting a 50-cent EMS levy on the ballot in November.

The detailed study showed that maintaining in-house emergency medical services was the only option that would not require layoffs for local firefighters. The consultants found that the “status quo” option also would: give east county communities uninterrupted emergency services; help the cities maintain control over EMS operations; ensure that east county citizens “continue to receive emergency medical transport in a timely manner;” and — if the cities maintain staffing levels — allow CWFD to “mitigate some of the larger incidents, such as residential fires, major motor vehicle accidents and multi-casualty incidents.”

Other options the consultants researched — keeping in-house medical but contracting out for transport; contracting out for medical and transport services; or having combined in-house and contracted transport services — would all mean longer transport-unit response times, require firefighter layoffs, lead to sometimes “significant” declines in “overall emergency services capabilities” and have negative financial impacts on local fire departments.

The consultants, in the course of their research, also found that Camas-Washougal has some significant differences when compared to EMS services around the country. For example, the area has a much higher rate of concurrent emergency calls.

“It’s very unusual compared to other systems,” Stouffer said. “I wish I knew the reason why, but you can’t predict it … no one plans their heart attack or car crash.”

The consultants also recommended that city leaders investigate Clark Regional Emergency Services Agency’s process for dispatching first resonders to 911 calls — with an average speed of nearly four minutes between taking a 911 call and dispatching units, CRESA is well above the national average of 60- seconds or less, Stouffer said. He did not know the reason for this, but urged city leaders to look into it.