‘You should be worried’: former TRAA paramedic shares insight into ‘failing’ ambulance service

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FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) — When you dial 911 and ask for an ambulance within Fort Wayne city limits the Three Rivers Ambulance Authority (TRAA) may not be the agency that shows up. If they do show up, data shows they will probably be late.

Since August 2020, TRAA has been out of compliance. Currently, the agency only has 70% of its calls that are in compliance, meaning they showed up to a scene and were on time. TRAA officials have blamed a shortage of workers due to the pandemic. However, current and former TRAA employees as well as members of the Fort Wayne City Council are blaming management.

Former TRAA paramedic John Legg reached out to WANE 15 concerned about the confusion between TRAA and PatientCare EMS Solutions he saw at Tuesday night’s city council meeting.

TRAA and PatientCare EMS Solutions are housed in the same building but are different organizations. PatientCare EMS Solutions is a contractor who provides workers to TRAA. The City of Fort Wayne owns the name “TRAA” and 50% of the equipment. PatientCARE EMS Solution owns the other 50% of the equipment and employs all of the ambulance personnel, dispatchers, fleet maintenance, and their management staff. 

The Three Rivers Ambulance Authority board is different than PatientCare EMS Solutions. The fines for being out of compliance are given to the contractor (PatientCare EMS Solutions). The contractor answers to TRAA’s Executive Director Gary Booher, who then reports to the TRAA Board of Directors. The board has the ability to remove contractors like PatientCare EMS Solutions.

Legg says to avoid confusion employees are told they work for TRAA when really they are paid by PatientCare EMS Solutions. He went on to say that employees were told to convey that they are TRAA employees to avoid confusion while on the scene.

Legg says TRAA was showing signs of failure prior to the pandemic. When he left TRAA in Dec. 2019, he described an environment that discouraged employees from speaking out to anyone outside of TRAA. He says that’s why several of his former employees and current employees have not spoken out.

He also said that at one point TRAA employees were the “best of the best,” claiming it used to take years to get a job with the agency. But now TRAA has more than a dozen positions open.

As a former paramedic and union representative Legg says that he is grateful to members of the city council for bringing TRAA’s situation to light and letting residents know what is going on.

During Tuesday night’s city council meeting, members grilled TRAA leaders on why a resolution has taken so long.

Councilman Russ Jehl brought it to the board’s attention that TRAA executive director Gary Booher received a $40,000 bonus at the end of 2020. That bonus upset many on the city council. Legg says he was grateful to the council.

“The contractors should be held responsible by TRAA and if TRAA can’t settle the issue, if TRAA can’t get the contractors to resolve the issue then somebody needs to be looking at TRAA,” Legg said. “That’s where the city council is coming in. I am grateful that the city council is coming in and has finally been made aware of this situation and they are holding TRAA, Mr. Booher’s feet to the fire.”

Due to TRAA being out of compliance other ambulance services have stepped up. At the city council, councilwoman Michelle Chambers said between May and August, one Allen County service filled in for TRAA 243 times. She said that was “concerning.”

Jehl asked Booher how long it would take for Fort Wayne to make national news if the county ambulance services stopped helping TRAA. Booher’s response, “I don’t know.”

According to Jehl, county agency leaders suggested to the city council that TRAA would not be able to make it one day without their help. Booher said ‘it would appear that way.’

Another sore topic for the council was that multiple former TRAA employees have asked to come back part-time and have been denied by PatientCare EMS Solutions. Legg says they are being denied because of the paramedic’s job records.

“If you are a minute late you were written up,” Legg said. “That write-up stays with you and in your file when you leave. Even if you only have one write-up and you decide you want to work part-time at TRAA that one write-up is allowing [PatientCare EMS Solutions] to deny you to come back. However, there are employees with write-ups that can be full-time which I don’t understand.”

Legg went on to say that it is critical that employees show up on time. He says the minute late example was to show that if you had a few minor write ups you would not be allowed to transition into part-time status. He also said he could not speak to those coming back only those who tried to leave full-time status.

Between TRAA, PatientCare EMS Solutions, and the union president for paramedics and EMTs, several members of the council suggested a mediator resolve the issue.

At the end of the discussion, council members were visibly upset and said they were grateful no residents have died due to the situation.

After Tuesday night’s meeting, Booher moved up his retirement from December to October. However, according to his email, he is out for the rest of the month on vacation.

Over the past few months, WANE 15 has spoken with current and former TRAA employees who described the situation as “life and death.” WANE 15 asked Legg if he feels Fort Wayne residents should be worried.

“In this current situation you should be worried about,” Legg said. “But the folks who show up whether it’s the fire department, or other Allen County departments or the contractor’s employees they do what they do for a reason. They are there to help you. They want to give as best they can but the resources are just too thin.”

Council will likely call back the TRAA officials to a council meeting in the near future. WANE 15 is watching the situation and will bring updates on any progress made in the weeks ahead.

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