Ambulance service ironing out its Rosemount problems

  • Article by: GRAISON HENSLEY CHAPMAN , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 19, 2014 - 2:00 PM

HealthEast, which was struggling to get emergency vehicles to their destination on time as recently as three years ago, has made big strides.

It’s gotten a lot easier to get an ambulance quickly in Rosemount.

Three years ago, fewer than one in five responses by the ambulance service serving the city arrived within its goal of nine minutes. That led to concern from city leaders and urgency to get the problem fixed.

Now, after deploying its ambulances to cover the city more effectively, provider HealthEast told the City Council this month that in 2013, seven of 10 ambulance trips met that goal.

“They’ve done a great job in improving response times in the last three to four years,” said Mayor Bill Droste. Not long after learning about the on-goal rate — which was 25 percent in 2009 and 19 percent the two years following — Droste wrote HealthEast, a nonprofit system of hospitals and clinics based in St. Paul, to ask why Rosemount had higher response times than other cities in the area.

To improve its speed, HealthEast has bought software to forecast future calls based on an area’s history. It also has put more ambulances on the road and created a team to plan where its vehicles should be roving or stationed throughout the day.

Most importantly, said Dr. Allen Wesley, HealthEast’s medical director, was their switch to a new method of deploying vehicles. Before 2012, when an ambulance brought a patient to the hospital, there wasn’t another to take its place.

In the new system, HealthEast had drivers posted at intersections or fire stations — or driving through different parts of town — based on where calls were likely to come from throughout the day.

The strategy has been effective. In 2010, 19 percent of calls met HealthEast’s goal. In 2011, it was 45 percent. Last year, it was 68 percent.

Rosemount’s expected growth means that HealthEast can’t count on increasing that rate further without more calibrating in years to come. Rosemount and southern Eagan have more land to develop than other areas served by HealthEast, such as South St. Paul and Inver Grove Heights. Those areas are also expected to keep growing but more densely. With their residents closer together, it’s easier to respond to calls quickly.

Droste sympathizes with HealthEast’s challenge. Just one-third of Rosemount’s 36 square miles is fully developed, he said, and much of the city is rural, which means ambulances drive farther to calls. The calls that still don’t make the nine-minute goal, HealthEast says, are mostly from the sparsely populated areas east of Hwy. 3.

HealthEast added that Rosemount’s lack of four-lane roads is a major impediment. In larger cities to the north, roads such as Yankee Doodle are crucial for getting across town quickly. Responding to calls on Rosemount’s lower-speed, less direct two-lane roads such as Hwy. 3 takes more time — especially in snowy weather, when smaller roads are cleared later.

“Being far on the outskirts,” Droste said, “it is difficult to get good response times.”

In Dakota County, HealthEast also provides EMS services for West St. Paul, South St. Paul, Eagan, Mendota Heights and Inver Grove Heights. Allina Health covers Farmington, Apple Valley and Lakeville, while the fire departments of Burnsville and Hastings manage their EMS services.

Graison Hensley Chapman is a freelance writer.

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