Milwaukee Fire Department to start staffing additional ambulances in response to shortage

NOW: Milwaukee Fire Department to start staffing additional ambulances in response to shortage

MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- Two private ambulance companies have ended their contract with Milwaukee, causing a shortage, and leaving the future of ambulance response in the city up in the air.

In response, Milwaukee will start running two additional ambulances dedicated to basic 911 calls on Sunday.

Private providers said Medicaid and Medicare don't pay enough to cover the cost of an ambulance, causing some companies to to drop out of the city system.

"In the absence of any available private ambulance companies we have a legal obligation to respond to transport in an ambulance to an emergency room anybody that requests that," said Acting Milwaukee Fire Chief Aaron Lipski.

He said that responsibility is putting a huge strain on the fire department's 12 ambulances and all its other crews too.

"There is a burnout that I fear is coming if it is not already arriving," said Lipski.

"Historically there have been four providers, now in the last few years, two providers have left," said Bell Ambulance Client Services Director Scott Mickelsen.

He said losing providers weakens the overall system because there are fewer ambulances to handle calls.

"There's been a lot of trouble meeting the call volume, by these other providers," said Mickelsen.

He said Bell has rarely had to send calls back to the fire department, but said it is feeling the pressure. It is also trying to keep staffing up. Mickelsen said COVID testing and vaccination jobs have drawn away some ambulance operators to higher paychecks.

"A lot of places an EMT or a paramedic can make more money with their certification than they can on an actual ambulance," said Mickelsen.

That's why the fire department has decided to staff the two ambulances.

"There are no fast, easy, or cheap options," said Lipski.

The department is even considering training cadets that could be hired by the private ambulance companies.

"It would be our expense and their gain because they wouldn't have the expense, but then we would have an operational advantage because there would be more capacity in their system," said Lipski.

The fire department is still in the planning stages for many of its ideas.

It may even try to bring back retirees to staff ambulances.

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