Flint, MI — Three to four times a week, the Genesee County 911 dispatch authority goes into critical status.
Critical status means that there are less than five ambulances available for use, and the dispatch team has to send out an alert to ambulance providers in the area.
“We can get rid of five ambulances very fast here,” Genesee County 911 Executive Director Tim Jones said. “Sometimes it’ll go for… a period of time when there’s just no ambulances.”
Since 2020, critical status has become a common occurrence, Jones said.
On a good day, the director estimates his team has access to 20 to 25 ambulances for dispatch to the entire county, which has a population of about 401,000 according to recent U.S. Census estimates.
But even with roughly two dozen ambulances, Jones said, things aren’t like how they were before the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Don’t get me wrong, it is getting better,” he said. “But … we went from six ambulance companies to three.”
Call and Response
According to Genesee County 911 data, the 2018 average emergency response time between a 911 call and when a responder arrived to the scene was 8 minutes and 31 seconds.
In 2022, that average was up to 14 minutes and 19 seconds.
In September of that year, the City of Flint announced it would be entering into an agreement with STAT EMS to provide dedicated ambulance services to the city.
The purpose of the non-monetary agreement was to decrease response times by providing consistent service for Flint residents, who represent about 20% of Genesee County’s population. The contract would do so by having Genesee County 911 dispatch STAT EMS by default for calls within the city of Flint.
At the time, STAT EMS Founder and CEO Marc Lund said he was looking forward to the partnership, as a contract like Flint’s was something he’d been working for since 2000, when STAT EMS began.
The city’s Sept. 15 announcement stated that STAT EMS would begin providing dedicated service to Flint within 30 days. However, that agreement never came to fruition.
Two days before the announcement, the contract between the ambulance provider and the city had been tabled by the Genesee County 911 Consortium because STAT EMS did not have a certificate of insurance, according to the consortium’s meeting minutes.
Lund explained to Flint Beat that the consortium had then requested STAT EMS pay for a $10 million liability policy — which required $88,000 down — prior to approval of the contract.
He called the request “atypical.”
Though STAT EMS had obtained the requested insurance by the time the consortium approved the contract in December 2022, the contract was never fully engaged because by then STAT EMS did not have enough staff to fulfill its terms, according to Lund.
Lund held that STAT EMS and the city had signed an initial contract in July 2022, but not brought it before the consortium until September. Flint’s City Administrator Clyde Edwards wrote in an email that the city entered into the agreement in September 2022.
Regardless, Lund said the time between when conversations started and when the contract could actually be acted on saw his company lose too many staff members to other roles.
“When it came right down to it, we had stretched ourselves too thin over that six, eight month period of time from when we signed the contract to when the contract was actually capable of being initiated,” Lund said, adding that EMS providers from outside of Flint had hired his employees with higher wages and sign-on bonuses.
This left STAT EMS without enough employees to fulfill the obligations within the contract— itself set to terminate in January 2023, just a month after its approval by the consortium.
“As a smaller family-owned and operated company headquartered out of the city of Flint, we just simply couldn’t compete with these much larger organizations,” he said.
Present and future EMS in Flint
Lund said given the lack of staff and financing, STAT EMS decided to forego its emergency ambulance services altogether.
Bruce Trevithick, the executive director of the Genesee County Medical Control Authority, said that Lund came to him on March 11, 2023, to let him know that STAT EMS would no longer be providing those services.
He told Flint Beat that the company’s license had been valid through March 31, 2023, at which point STAT EMS was removed from the Genesee County 911 system. He added that the provider had not applied to renew its license.
Lund said his company can re-apply for a license to be an emergency ambulance provider again, and he aspires to resume emergency ambulance services in the future.
“We’re hoping it’s not forever but it all depends on how, you know, things shake out over the next four to six months,” he said.
In the meantime, he said STAT EMS is offering non-emergency medical transportation services.
As for the area’s still-active EMS providers, Genesee County 911 Director Jones said there are currently three ambulance companies that service Genesee County: MedStar, Mobile Medical Response (MMR) and Patriot (which recently merged with Swartz).
He said there is also a company that services the west side of the county called Twin Ambulance.
However, there used to be more, he said, noting that Banks EMS used to provide service to Genesee County but that company “didn’t last long.”
Despite the STAT EMS contract never being engaged, City Administrator Edwards told Flint Beat the city has maintained the same level of service and is looking for ways to improve it.
“The City of Flint is still exploring ways to provide enhanced services for Flint residents,” he wrote in an email.
However, when asked what level of service he was comparing Flint’s current EMS response to, Edwards did not respond.
As for STAT EMS, according to the Michigan State Police (MSP), the company is currently under investigation regarding an employee complaint that they were unable to access financial documents like their W-2 tax form.
Public Information Officer Kim Vetter said MSP detectives are working through documents provided to determine whether a criminal act was committed.
Lund said he hasn’t heard anything from MSP and neither have his attorneys, but he was aware of some employees who were upset after receiving their W-2s late.
He said he and his team “can’t fathom” why there would be a story “that said that after 23 plus years in business and being an excellent . . . steward to Genesee County and . . . bleeding for the community that there would be a claim of us, you know, having some participation in financial crimes and then never hearing anything about it.”
“But,” he added, “it’s been damaging.”
So far in 2023, the average emergency response time for 911 calls that required an ambulance is 14 minutes and 10 seconds, or around 9 seconds faster than in 2022.