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New ambulance chief on job; plans fiscal, equipment reviews

Feb 17, 2014 - By Eric Blom, Staff Writer

A new director is at the wheel of Fremont County's Ambulance Department. Joseph Zillmer started work Feb. 10.

Zillmer said he thinks highly of the service local emergency medical technicians provide but hopes to recruit more volunteers and improve the financial side of the ambulance service.

"I'm excited about the challenges and opportunity," Zillmer said Tuesday at the county commission meeting in Lander.

"Health care with our goals is going to be more challenging than it ever has been."

Born at Fort Campbell, Ky., and having grown up on Army bases around the U.S., Zillmer most recently lived in Amarillo, Texas, and speaks with a Texan's twang. He became certified as an EMT in the early 1970s and worked in Amarillo for five years, where he completed a paramedic's certification as well.

Since then, he was worked on the administration side of emergency medical services.

As he takes over, Zillmer said he has three goals: to do a needs assessment, complete a clinical review of medical protocols and standards, and to improve fiscal management.

"Part of the difficulty is making sure everybody in the community, that they understand the challenges these kids face every day while literally risking their lives to provide services," Zillmer said in an interview.

Finances

Money is a big issue for EMS. The department's budget for this fiscal year is $2.8 million, one-third larger than last year's $2.1 million.

The ambulance department increased rates to raise its revenues but still expected a $600,000 shortfall. Running such a deficit would deplete EMS's cash reserves in about two and a half years.

"It's going to be matching up the funds needed as well as managing the budget to make sure we are as fiscally sound and cost the county the least amount of money possible," Zillmer said.

"The goal is to be self-sustaining."

One challenge is that the Affordable Care Act changed the rates at which Medicaid and Medicare reimburse hospital services, Zillmer said, but it is not clear if similar changes will happen for EMS.

That puts the revenue picture in question, he said.

Recruiting more volunteers should help, however.

"We with the staff there, we'll draft a plan for how to integrate more volunteers into the system to relieve some of the full-time payroll costs to relieve some of the payroll costs," Zillmer said.

To bring on more volunteers, he said he plans to offer more flexible training options and to show more appreciation.

Assessment

Zillmer describes the needs assessment as "an overall checkup on where we are."

He plans to review personnel to ensure they have training they need and that they are providing the services expected.

Zillmer also expects to examine EMS's equipment to understand if the department has everything it needs and see if it all performs as necessary.

"For the rural county that you are, you have some incredible medical protocols and standards," Zillmer said. "What these kids are doing on the street is really advanced."

Still, he wants to review the medical policies with the ambulance department's new medical director Scott Bender to see if any changes are necessary.

Besides the job, Zillmer is looking forward to living in Fremont County.

"I like being a part of a community where everybody knows you," he said.

"My goal is to finish my career and work there, find exactly the type of ranch I'm looking for, and live there the rest of my life."