St. Francis sparkles as new Dover EMS provider

DOVER — There are some things that can be bargained for, but according to Dover Mayor Robin Christiansen, the safety of the city’s citizens is not one of them.

Mayor Christiansen, who has more than 40 years of firefighting experience, fought hard last winter to make sure Dover had the best Emergency Medical Services (EMS) operation that it could get — and new EMS provider St. Francis appears to be going above and beyond the call.

Officials from Wilmington-based St. Francis Healthcare presented a six-month review of its service to Dover before the Safety Advisory and Transportation Committee at the Council Committee of the Whole meeting at Dover’s City Hall on Tuesday night.

Judging from the statistics, cooperation with other departments such as the Dover Fire Department, and community involvement, St. Francis appears to be a perfect fit for the city of Dover.

“Thank you all for the good work that’s being done,” City Councilman David Anderson said, to the St. Francis officials and staff who attended the meeting. “I believe our citizens are being better served in the quality of care. I also thank the mayor for taking leadership to make sure that we had the proper level of care and the highest standard for the citizens of Dover as well.”

St. Francis didn’t waste any time taking over EMS service for Dover in the footsteps of former provider Prime Care, whose bid to retain the city’s EMS service was more than twice the $300,000 bid submitted by St. Francis last January.

After being awarded the contract, St. Francis only had 75 days to get three ambulances purchased, equipped, certified and lettered so they would be ready for an April 1 start date.

They held a job fair in January at the Little Creek Fire Hall because they wanted the EMTs for the Dover Division to have a Dover background. They hired 20 Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs), four shift supervisors and one manager.

Upon their hiring, all the EMTs, who had already been through all the National Registry EMT Training and were already certified EMTs were put through a rigorous first-ever St. Francis EMS Academy that lasted for five weeks. It provided them with new knowledge and bonded them as a team.

St. Francis held a graduation ceremony on March 31 and the graduates went on duty at midnight on April 1.

Joe Leonetti, senior director of operations for the support services of St. Francis, admitted it wasn’t easy meeting all those early deadlines – but said it was well worth it.

“St. Francis was awarded the EMS contract last January,” Mr. Leonetti said. “We were very proud to have been selected and we promised you at that time that we were going to give you a Class A EMS service here in the city.

“When we took over this endeavor, we wanted you to know that it doesn’t make a difference if you are rich or poor, black or white, what religion you are, you will be treated with dignity, compassion and respect. We demand that from our crews, and we expect them to deliver that to the citizens of the city of Dover.”

Scott Bundek, chief of EMS for St. Francis, said the organization even went a little above and beyond the call.

“The ask from the city was for two EMS ambulances, 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” he said. “We looked at the data the 9-1-1 center could provide to us and we did not feel that was going to be enough, so at no additional cost we added a third (ambulance), 12 hours a day, seven days a week. We identified 9 a.m. until 9 p.m. as the time that we were needed the most.

“This increased manpower has shown that there was definitely a need because these units are moving constantly, but it also reduces response times to folks at Dover that were in need and had an emergency.”

By the numbers

The numbers Mr. Bundek provided appear to back that up.

He said in the same six-month period from 2018 — April to September — St. Francis experienced an 8 percent total run volume increase.
In 2018, outside agencies were dispatched to respond to emergencies in Dover 23.2 percent of the time. In 2019, St. Francis reduced that figure to 5.9 percent, a reduction of 17.3 percent.

Outside transports, when an outside agency had to transport somebody to the hospital in Dover, happened 14.2 percent of the time in 2018. That number is down to 2.7 percent during the same six-month period this year, a reduction of 11.7 percent.

The average turnaround time from a St. Francis ambulance’s arrival at Bayhealth Hospital’s Kent Campus in Dover until they were available again was 13 minutes and 26 seconds in August. In September it was 15 minutes, 17 seconds.

“We found that’s going to move a few minutes here and there just based off the (number of people) that in the ER at the time they come in and out,” Mr. Bundek said. “Our goal was to be less than 20 minutes and we have been able to consistently achieve that.”

The organization has also easily exceeded the standard 90 percent threshold for meeting its response times.

“That is because there are additional units on the street,” said Mr. Bundek. “It’s also because these folks that are standing behind me (EMTs) are quick to clear up and be ready for the next job, and it’s also because on 69 occasions the captain of the division and the administrative lieutenant that works out of the division will get into a fourth ambulance and handle calls when there’s a noticed increase in run volume.

“We take it very seriously to make sure the citizens are getting quick available medical care as fast as possible.”

Mike O’Connor serves as the captain of the Dover Division of St. Francis EMS.

Mutual admiration

The city of Dover appears to have found a jewel in its new EMS provider. St. Francis officials have easily acclimated to Dover, staffing events such as the Firefly Music Festival and NASCAR races at Dover International Speedway and the Thunder Over Dover air show at Dover Air Force Base last month.

“I just want to say that I’m very proud of the job that you are doing,” Mayor Christiansen said, to St. Francis’ EMTs. “As you know I date back to the EMT days when we had sticky-side down and Cadillac ambulances, so you’ve come a long way, baby. The community appreciates the presence that you provide through your outreach and just keep up the good work.”

The mayor was referring to the many outreach events St. Francis attends within the Dover community — such as Silver Lake Day, First Responders Night, health-check days at Luther Towers, and several others.

“It is a relief to have a professional service in the city,” Councilman Tanner Polce said. “I just wanted to thank you for that.”

Ralph Taylor, chair of the Safety Advisory and Transportation Committee, gave St. Francis a glowing endorsement at the outset of Tuesday’s meeting.

“Before we even get started, I’m going to let you know that you’re on very good footing,” Councilman Taylor said. “I had an opportunity to go down about two or three weeks ago and talk to some of the employees down there. I was very excited to hear the positive things that are happening within the organization and grateful that we have partnered together.”

Dan Sinnott, the president and CEO of St. Francis, tipped his hat to Captain O’Connor and his staff for how quickly his EMS team has been able to jell within the city of Dover.

“I was sitting back there with pride listening to these individuals because when this all started, we weren’t sure, but we felt that we had something of value to offer,” he said. “To see that it’s up and running now and to hear the success to date just makes me very proud to be the CEO of this great organization.”

Delaware State News staff writer Mike Finney can be reached at mfinney@newszap.com.

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