Hospital dispatchers to be cut


Four UnityPoint Health-Marshalltown E-911 dispatchers were notified in writing March 9 their services will not be required after May 18. Three are full-time and one

works on an as needed basis.

Also on March 9, UnityPoint-Marshalltown provided notification to leadership of the newly-formed Marshall County Communication Commission (formerly known as the E-911 Commission — that effective May 18, UnityPoint Health-Marshalltown will transition all dispatching services to the MCCS.

UnityPoint-Marshalltown CEO Dustin Wright confirmed all actions during a telephone interview with Times-Republican staff Monday, and also confirmed he will be meeting with MCCS leadership today.

That meeting was confirmed by Marshalltown Mayor Joel Greer.

Greer and Marshall County Supervisor Vice-Chairman Bill Patten lead the MCCS, and are joined in decision making by mayors of Marshall County communities and others.

The T-R contacted UnityPoint for comment after receiving calls, emails, and texts beginning Friday night from concerned Marshall County residents.

Currently — and for 50 years prior — E-911 callers requesting an ambulance are transferred to UnityPoint Health-Marshalltown dispatcher by staff of MCCS. Wright said UnityPoint-Marshalltown has concluded this arrangement is inappropriate as it involves UnityPoint-Marshalltown in the E-911 dispatch process which should be handled by a governmental entity. Furthermore, UnityPoint-Marshalltown believes dispatching communications can be streamlined under one dispatch center.

“What we have is an extra step in the process,” said Wright. “It is not common place or best practice. We (UnityPoint) are transferring a call from one dispatch center to another dispatch center. We do need to have two of them here.”

Wright emphasized that patient safety and quality remains a top priority.

He further emphasized the May 18 date is tentative and that he volunteered to MCCS leadership that UnityPoint-Marshalltown will be flexible and could extend the turnover to insure a smooth transition.” Additionally, Wright said during the transition period, UnityPoint-Marshalltown will continue to provide ambulance services.

Wright and UnityPoint Regional Marketing Director Laura Rainey also stated UnityPoint-Marshalltown is committed to being community partner and is willing to work collaboratively with the MCCS to find a solution for both parties. “As timelines are established, communication will be distributed as necessary. For the time being, no immediate changes will happen ensuring patient safety is not compromised.”

Several MCCS board members were critical of UnityPoint-Marshalltown’s actions citing its “suddenness” to the amount of time it will take to sufficiently train current dispatchers or hire new staff to replace the UnityPoint-Marshalltown dispatchers.

“I would like to meet with the hospital, as a commission, to see what is the sudden change and why they need to stop dispatching immediately,” said Marshall County Emergency Management Agency Coordinator Kim Elder. “I have heard over the years this was something they wanted to change but why suddenly? This would entail more training, more dispatchers, probably at least one other person on every shift, and then there are the consequences the hospital has on their side. I have dispatched a few times in the past, as an EMT working at the ER, and there is a lot more to the hospital side of dispatch. I have several questions for the hospital to find out just how this transition will work, if it is done. There is a lot to the hospital side, such as details of the call, HIPPA regulations, continued contact with the ambulance after the caller is off the line, medical control. Not only will this affect how the communication center and hospital do their jobs, but also the (MCCS) budgets, which are already set.

MCCS board member and State Center Mayor Steve Sodders said he was disappointed with the UnityPoint-Marshalltown’s announcement.

“The hospital is giving us very little notice,” he said. I think a letter should have been sent to the full commission. And they should have brought it up to the full commission a month or two months ago. That is disappointing. What it means is this … if (handling medical calls) comes our responsibility regular E-911 dispatchers are not certified like the medical dispatchers at UnityPoint-Marshalltown … we would have to hire certified dispatchers or train those on hand now. We have already set the budget.”


Contact Mike Donahey at 641-753-6611 or