Community, Healthcare, Latest News, Monongalia County

EMS merger is a ‘work in progress’

Forest Weyen has had a busy year. 

Hired in October 2019 as the executive director of a newly reformed Mon EMS — a merger of Mon EMS and WVU Hospitals’ HealthTeam Critical Care Transport — Weyen said the process of bringing the two agencies together to create an independent EMS service is a work in progress.

“We were flying this ship as we were building it,” Weyen said. “For a couple months, if you wanted to come work for us, there really wasn’t a place to go, so recruitment was challenging. But we’re building this thing. We’re not trying to build it quick. We’re trying to build it right.”

Weyen came on board a little over three months after the merger was finalized. The majority of that time has been spent trying to take employees from competing agencies and put them under a uniform set of policies and procedures.

“Half our staff was under one health system and the other half was under another. Switching from one HR system to another is a big task anyway if you a single company. The fact that we were trying to get pay parity and make sure that people who were equal could be equal was a daunting task for us,” he said, explaining Mon EMS has 155 employees. “Now, we’re all operating under the same guidelines.”

Hiring of the agency’s leadership structure began in June. Services like human resources and information technology support are currently being contracted out but will eventually be brought in-house.

Operationally, ambulances are dispatched from six locations. Mon EMS is the primary leaseholder on facilities located at  J.D. Anderson Drive, The Gateway and Tower Lane. Units are also dispatched out of the Blacksville, Cheat Lake and Clinton District volunteer fire departments. Based on the outcome of ongoing negotiations, Weyen said a seventh location may be in the works.

According to Weyen, Mon EMS is hitting or exceeding national benchmarks in terms of ambulance response times, which is what prompted the merger that created the agency in the first place.

Beginning in 1982, EMS in Monongalia County operated on a priority list that dictated Mon EMS, a branch of Mon Health System, was to be the priority provider and therefore always the first agency notified. 

Changes to the longstanding EMS setup were set in motion in February 2018 with the creation of WVU Hospitals’  HealthTeam Critical Care Transport. The new provider began stationing ambulances in outlying areas of the county, prompting residents to ask the Monongalia County Commission why they were waiting on Mon EMS ambulances being dispatched from Morgantown when there was an ambulance parked at the volunteer fire department down the road. 

The county commission attempted to address those concerns in May 2018 by splitting the county into six EMS zones and initiating a move toward a proximity-based dispatch system. Even so, residents in some areas continued to call on the county to reduce response times.

 In November 2018, the merger was announced.

Since the agencies have come together, the commissioners said they’ve received zero complaints.

“What we like to see is response times and driving those response times down … That’s the most important thing, the actual delivery of the service to the citizens,” Commissioner Sean Sikora said. “That’s what we want to see and it sounds like you’re doing a good job. We’ve gotten zero complaints.”

 Mon EMS operates on the revenue generated through its emergency and non-emergency transports. Any shortfalls are covered by Mon Health and WVU Hospitals.

 “The thing that’s been beneficial to both WVU and Mon Health is that they were both funding EMS agencies, and both at a loss. Now that’s been combined,” Weyen said. “We’re saving both health systems money and we’re creating a much more efficient service.”

 He concluded by saying the merger is fairly unique in the national EMS landscape and has allowed the focus to remain where it belongs.

“The two health systems coming together and allowing us to not worry about what brand the patient wants to go to but really focus on patient care has been great. This board has been really good about embracing that and allowing us to do the things we need to do to focus on being patient-centric,” Weyen said. “It’s really awesome and it really hasn’t been done many places across the U.S. I’m excited about this partnership.”