WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – Sedgwick County Commissioner Jim Howell weighed in Wednesday on the EMS situation in the county before commissioners went into an executive session to conduct personnel matters of nonelected personnel.
Howell said he is proud of all the Sedgwick County EMS personnel who have skillfully helped residents during the worst moments of their lives.
In 2018, Howell said the county had developed a national reputation as one of the best. However, recent reports by The Wichita Eagle highlight a broken emergency medical system with short staffing and high response times. Howell said he believes in the credibility of the Eagle’s stories after investigative reporters analyzed hundreds of records.
Howell calls the crisis at EMS “dangerous” and says it has been developing for almost three years. He cites a 2021 Board of EMS investigative report, the staff he has talked to across the organization, and four hours of testimony of 39 former and current EMS employees who testified before Sedgwick County Manager Tom Stolz and Assistant County Manager Rusty Leeds.
“I don’t think the inevitable, necessary changes should be put off any longer. We have a plethora of data, and making some decisions to bring health back to this organization is already overdue, in my opinion. It’s time to move forward,” Howell said.
The county has hired Hite, Fanning & Honeyman to audit EMS. The audit started weeks ago.
In 2019, Sedgwick County merged EMS with the Office of the Medical Director (OMD), and the county manager selected Dr. John Gallagher as a leader for the organization.
“In my opinion, those decisions made that day are the main reasons we have an EMS crisis today,” Howell said. “Since the BOCC (Board of County Commissioners) cannot directly make the organizational changes or the leadership changes that fall under the county manager, all I can do is share my opinion on what I think needs to happen.”
Howell asked the county manager to make the changes immediately and revert to separate EMS and OMD organizations before ending his comments.
Commissioners then moved into executive session to conduct matters of nonelected personnel related to the performance evaluation of a management-level county employee. They returned to the meeting about 30 minutes after the executive session to close the meeting.
“I think as we have seen this system doesn’t necessarily work for our community and so sometimes you have to go back to the drawing board,” said Sedgwick County Commissioner Lacey Cruse.
Commissioners expect to receive the audit in the next week or so, but it will not be made public.
“Unfortunately, we are in the middle of an investigation, and we have to let this play out before we can make a decision,” Cruse said. “That is good policymaking and that is really how we have to, unfortunately, let it happen.”
County commissioners say any potential EMS changes fall on the shoulders of the county manager.
KSN reached out to county manager Tom Stolz and medical director Dr. John Gallagher. Both declined to comment citing personnel matters and the ongoing investigation.