E-911 operators now dispatching ambulances

UnityPoint Health discontinues the service

Beginning July 1 Marshall County E-911 Emergency Operators added a new task — dispatching UnityPoint Health-Marshalltown ambulances.

For 50 years previously, that job had been the responsibility of UnityPoint Health-Marshalltown medical dispatchers.

E-911 callers requesting, or who would need an ambulance, were transferred to UnityPoint Health-Marshalltown medical dispatchers by E-911 operators.

The UnityPoint Health-Marshalltown dispatcher followed through by ordering an ambulance if necessary or providing other assistance.

However, earlier this year UnityPoint Health officials told the Marshall County Communications Commission — which manages the E-911 system — it would discontinue the service effective July 1.

UnityPoint Health did promise it would assist MCCC with training and software expense as part of the process.

“We have spent the last month preparing for the transition,” Teresa Lang, E-911 Manager wrote the July edition of The Thin Gold Line Monthly Dispatch, a publication of the Marshall County Communications Center. “We worked with RACOM to set up tones, and devising policy and procedure. Now we will remain on the line with the caller and ask questions we were previously listening to and will dispatch the ambulance crew and log their motions along with other agencies. Our operators have every confidence we will quickly adapt to the new requirements and excel in professional dispatching of the medical calls in Marshall County.”

A letter to the MCCC by UnityPoint Health Marshalltown officials earlier this year alerted the MCCC board change was coming.

“UnityPoint Health-Marshalltown has concluded this (medical dispatching) arrangement is inappropriate as it involves UnityPoint Health-Marshalltown in the 911 dispatch process which should be handled by a governmental entity,” wrote UnityPoint Health Marshalltown CEO Dustin Wright. “Furthermore, UnityPoint Health-Marshalltown believes dispatching communications can be streamlined under one dispatch center. “

Wright and Pamela Delagardelle, CEO of UnityPoint Health-Allen Hospital Waterloo, which oversees UnityPoint Health-Marshalltown, told the MCCC in a meeting earlier this year the move was necessary — they were in the process of cutting unnecessary expenses in an effort to keep it viable.

Delagardelle emphasized eliminating the medical dispatching was part of an effort “to keep good quality care in Marshalltown. A year into the organization (after purchasing the Central Iowa Healthcare assets for nearly $12 million dollars, and taking over May 1, 2017) our commitment is about keeping good quality care in Marshalltown. In order to do that, we are having to reduce unnecessary expenses to remain viable to the people we serve here. There is a commitment to doing that. We would like to look for a collaborative way to turn over the medical dispatch to this commission. While we realize there are no more dollars … you can’t provide money you have not budgeted for … we all have those same challenges.”

Wright said the local hospital is operating at a loss, and “things must be done differently.”

Delagardelle said there was an opportunity to “collaborate and reduce the overall costs and create a more sustainable system.”

Earlier in 2017 CIH had declared bankruptcy.

And it had been referred to as a “melting ice cube” by federal bankruptcy judge Anita Shodeen at one point in bankruptcy court proceedings.

E-911 operators currently work in the basement of the Marshalltown Police Department, 22 N. Center St. They will move to the joint Police and Fire Headquarters facility under construction in the 900 block of South Second Street. Occupancy is expected in December

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Contact Mike Donahey at

641-753-6611 or mdonahey@timesrepublican.com