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No doubt County Executive Chris Abele's announcement to cut $3 million from the County's Paramedic Program has raised a few eyebrows.  Despite the County's ailing fiscal health, cuts to one of the more reputable Paramedic Programs in the nation may be a bit too brash for the new County Executive.  County Board Supervisors appear to have a consensus about keeping the program intact, so the question is whether Abele will spend political capital on cuts to a program currently at the forefront of emergency care?

Opposition from the County Board

County Supervisor Mark Borkowski expressed surprise that Abele would cut the Paramedic Program.  "With only six months under his belt, he's messing with one of the best things we do," Borkowski told El Conquistador.  The point is well taken.  USA Today ranked the Milwaukee County Paramedic Program second in the nation for cardiac resuscitation, an unlikely feat without the County's funding.  It's a "well kept secret of how great we are," said Borkowski.  But good secrets prove hard to keep.  Just ask international delegates from China, Poland, and the Republic of Georgia who come to Milwaukee to see what makes the program tick.

County Supervisor Joe Sanfelippo agrees with his colleague, but he reminded us about Abele's campaign promises to tidy up government.  The cornerstone of Abele's 2010 campaign was streamlining government by collaborating and consolidating wherever possible, said Sanfelippo in an email to El Conquistador.  "So it is very bewildering to me why he would want to cut a collaborative program with a proven track record of success."

Supervisor Joe Rice joined the chorus of criticisms on Monday citing a concern about Abele's lack of dialogue with Supervisors, a problem worsening by the day as the Executive continues his hands-off brand of leadership with the Board.  Rice said,

"The Milwaukee County Paramedic System plays a central role in the relationship between Milwaukee County and its nineteen municipalities.  It is an example of a cooperative program of shared services and shared costs.  Any debate over the shifting of costs and programs to municipal government ought to be the product of an open dialogue between governments and not be dictated.  A unilateral attempt to shift costs does little to make programs more efficient or less expensive."

When we pressed Rice further about endorsing the program, he said that County support is appropriate when it's a part of a "consolidated, cost-effective delivery system."  Rice added that cuts to the paramedic program may lead to more "bulkanization and duplication."

Opposition by Local Fire Departments

Franklin's Fire Department - a suburban department with paramedic services - would stand to lose $250,000 if the County backed away from the Paramedic Program.  Franklin Fire Chief James Martins took particular exception to Abele's announcement that cuts would encourage municipalities to consolidate fire and paramedic services.  "You don't get a better poster-child for consolidation," Martins spoke favorably of the program.  He said local departments have been consolidating their training and resources for years.

Martins also had some concerns about losing the County's $250,000 subsidy and the impact it would have on their operating budget.  "We have no place to go but personnel," Martins said anticipating potential staffing cuts if Abele's plan sees fruition.

Franklin's Fire Department isn't the only service that would shoulder the costs.  According to Supervisor Borkowski, cutting $300,000 from South Milwaukee's Fire Department would represent 19% of their budget. Captain Joe Knitter of the South Milwaukee Fire Department said that money makes it possible for municipal fire departments can train at Froedert Medical College, a teaching hospital with state-of-the-art studies.   Losing that funding, Knitter believes, could lead to layoffs and position losses through attrition.

David Kusulke, a South Milwaukee paramedic and paramedic instructor, added that cuts to the paramedic program would likely gut their Advanced Life Support (ALS) services as well.  This means that ALS response times to Cudahy - a city reliant on South Milwaukee's paramedic expertise - would lengthen since Oak Creek paramedic units are farther away.  Kusulke pointed out that in 2002 only 2% of cardiac arrests survived secondary to pre-hospital care.  Today, in Milwaukee County, the survivability of cardiac arrest patients has increased to 14% thanks to the work of paramedic programs like the one in Milwaukee County.

Opposition by a Liberal Blogger Who No Longer Opposes it.

In the campaign season of 2010, one liberal blogger led the charge to protect the paramedic program from the clutches of then County Executive Scott Walker.  Although the County Executive didn't say for sure he would cut the program, it didn't stop activist blogger Chris Liebenthal from drawing up a petition bemoaning the cuts and claiming that areas in Milwaukee would go without paramedic services.  Where is Liebenthal on the issue now?  He has not posted single word on his blog about preserving the integrity of the program.  We're not giving up hope though, there is still time for him to make his stand.


The Milwaukee County Paramedic Program - ranked #2 in the nation in cardiac arrest resuscitation - is now on Abele's chopping block.  Although Abele is sounding the fiscal alarm, defunding the Paramedic Program creates somewhat of a dilemma for the County Executive.  The last thing Abele needs during campaign season is a controversy.  You can count on the fire community bristling to the threat and don't discount the growing bipartisan support on the County Board.  This is gearing up to be a big fight.  If Abele isn't careful, he may find himself embroiled in a controversy that could make his tenure short-lived.


Comments (4)
  • anti-neocon  - Not So Fast...

    You do realize that you had dismissed Capper's concerns when he said that this program would eventually be on the chopping block a while back, right? Furthermore, he ALWAYS is about preserving state and local government jobs, so everyone already knows where he stands on the issue.

    And you do realize that the county has to make very difficult financial decisions because the "state is broke", correct? There is a $55 million Milwaukee County deficit. And who is responsible for that? Yeah, it must be Doyle! (sarcasm)

  • Aaron M. Rodriguez  - Misunderstanding


    I dismissed Liebenthal's concerns because, at the time, I knew that Walker wouldn't cut from the program. And it wasn't an educated guess, I knew the program was safe.

    And whether Liebenthal is "always" about saving government jobs is immaterial. He chooses his battles for political reasons, not for the betterment of local government. A petition last year, nothing the next. It's not about the cuts, but WHO is doing them.

    And finally, the $55 million deficit is a direct result of the pension scandal that occurred before Walker's tenure as County Executive - a fact often ignored by liberals such as yourself. Let's keep our facts straight, shall we?

  • anti-neocon

    SIr, the program was NOT safe, regardless of who was, or currently is, in charge.

    "And whether Liebenthal is "always" about saving government jobs is immaterial."

    Not so fast. YOU made the point regarding his apparent silence on the matter. He has been loud and clear on the matter.

    "...the $55 million deficit is a direct result of the pension scandal."

    ONE of the causes, to be certain. THE cause? Debatable.

    "...a fact often ignored by liberals such as yourself."

    So, just because I challenged you on a couple of points, you automatically assume that I have to be a liberal.
    Amazing skill you have, sir. I am not liberal nor conservative.

    I can make up my OWN mind and not be duped by clear partisans like yourself or Liebenthal!

  • Aaron M. Rodriguez

    Like I said before, I knew the program was safe from Walker's knife at the time I made those comments. You don't have to know how or why I knew, but I was right nonetheless because Walker didn't cut from the program.

    Second, Liebenthal didn't say anything about the paramedic program until I goaded him into doing so. He would have kept his mouth shut, and that's not being loud and clear.

    Third, it's not debatable. The pension scandal is the primary reason - "the cause" if you will - of the County's fiscal insolvency. And the reason I know you're a liberal is because only liberals defend someone like Liebenthal. You're name designation is another clue, by the way.

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