Administration and Leadership, EMS Insider

Highlights from the First Annual Midwest EMS Expo

The first annual Midwest EMS Expo took place May 2-3, 2018, in La Crosse, Wisconsin. Co-sponsored by the American Ambulance Association (AAA), Professional Ambulance Association of Wisconsin (PAAW), and Minnesota Ambulance Association (MAA), the Midwest EMS Expo features content from national- and state-level ambulance experts. As the official media partner of the Expo, JEMS was on site for the inaugural event.

Mark Postma, President of the AAA, noted that “The American Ambulance Association is proud to co-sponsor the inaugural Midwest EMS Expo in collaboration with the Professional Ambulance Association of Wisconsin and Minnesota Ambulance Association.” He added, “We’re thrilled to deepen our already-strong collaboration with AAA’s official media partner, JEMS.”

The conference was kicked off on Wednesday morning with a welcome from Mark Postma, Maria Bianchi, CAE, Executive Vice President of AAA, Dana Sechler, President of PAAW, and Tim Kabat, Mayor of La Crosse. Postma then provided an update on ambulance-related legislation before handing the floor over to the morning’s speakers.

Billing, Reporting & Medicare Updates

Wednesday morning’s sessions were moderated by Brian Choate, Managing Director of the Solutions Group, who discussed billing and reporting best practices that will increase efficiencies and revenue. Choate acknowledged the increasing challenges of EMS billing, noting that “We’re billing patients who don’t have the cash to pay for these things.”

Choate’s recommendation for addressing these challenges: Improve your agency’s billing and reporting practices. “Desperate times call for improved strategies,” said Choate—not desperate measures.

Lavenda Young, Director of Operations and Client Services for Solutions Group, also discussed the importance of asking the right questions. “You need to know your processes,” she said – noting that good data allows for a useful dialogue with legislators, administrators, etc.

Hot Topics Panel: Wisconsin Legislation, Recruitment & Retention, Drug Diversion and Mental Health

The Wednesday afternoon session was a heavily-attended “Hot Topics” panel focused on issues in the region. Moderated by Dana Sechler, President of PAAW, the panel included Jon Cohn, President of the Wisconsin State Fire Chiefs Association, Marc Cohen, Executive Director of the Wisconsin EMS Association, Mark Postma, President of AAA, and Brian LaCroix, President of Allina Health EMS.

Among the topics covered were Wisconsin’s recent legislation regarding community paramedicine. Key next steps will include fully developing the administrative rules that will accompany this program.

On the topic of workforce diversity, recruitment and retention, Brian LaCroix said that “Our communities are changing, and EMS has not kept pace with it.” He also discussed how agencies must get creative and re-think the way they hire, and added that “We can’t rely on traditional educational pathways to change the demographics of our workforce.” 

Panelists also emphasized the importance of inclusivity in the workforce, acknowledging that being a diverse organization isn’t enough. Creating an environment where everyone feels included can change an employee’s experience.

On the topic of drug diversion, panelists agreed that we must all accept that it happens. Once agencies acknowledge this, the key is determining what your organization’s legal support network is, and how you support your people. “Nobody is going to turn themselves in if it means they’re going to lose their job,” said Marc Cohen.

When addressing provider mental health, Brian LaCroix brought the Canadian Institute for Public Safety Research and Treatment (CIPSRT), and its useful anonymous self-assessment mental health screening tool. Panelists discussed the fact that, although agencies can’t control the stressors of the job, they can control their own policies and processes for getting help. How many hoops does an employee have to jump through to get support? If it’s too hard, the danger is that they may not pursue it.

Day 2 Opening Keynote: Captain Raymond Dupuis

In the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing shoot-out in Watertown, Massachusetts, Captain Ray Dupuis oversaw communications as well as personnel assignments during the manhunt for the second suspect. Captain Dupuis was on scene when shots were fired at suspect number two while he was hidden in a grounded boat, then apprehended. He then remained onsite to establish security perimeters for the FBI so that they could process the crime.

In his keynote, Captain Dupuis outlined the operational details of the incident and played radio communications and video footage to illustrate his incredible story.  

Dupuis noted that, from an operational perspective, it was beneficial to have the marathon course go through two towns before entering Boston. This meant that there were an additional 400 responders along the route who were able to mobilize quickly when the bombing took place. 

One of the major lessons learned: Avoid self-deployment. Watertown PD put out a call for people in the area to help, and more than 1,000 police officers responded, overwhelming the operation. Dupuis acknowledged that communications for support need to be managed carefully.

Day 2 Breakout Sessions

The second day of the Expo included several smaller breakout sessions that covered a wide variety of topics, including:

  • Thomas Thibodeau delivered a session on Servant Leadership. “Our moods are contagious; therefore our leadership sets the tone,” Thibodeau reminded the audence. 
  • Tyler Christifulli talked about engaging millennials in the workplace by getting creative with education and training, and reminding the audience that it’s ok to re-think the 80-slide presentation and look for other options. 
  • Matt Zavadsky shared 10 steps for developing an effective relationship with your local media sources. Using his own experiences with MedStar Mobile Healthcare in Dallas, Matt provided some practical tips for on-camera interviews, and also outlined the importance of building and maintaining these relationships to both help the community and to provide agencies with a strong media outlet when issues arise. 

Day 2 Closing Keynote: Dana Sechler, President of PAAW

Dana Sechler closed the Expo with a powerful keynote about leadership and teamwork, by illustrating the collaboration required to get the EMS organizations in Wisconsin to where they are today: powerful and effective partners.

Sechler outlined the historical challenges of these organizations and what it took to bring everyone to the table. He discussed the work done with the Legislative Council Study Committee and findings from this review, as well as the recent legislation on Community Paramedicine in Wisconsin. Sechler reminded the audience that both of these outcomes were a result of the partnershps created between PAAW and other organizations. He also outlined the hot topics for the region that will be addressed in the near future:

  • Consolidation/regionalization of educational programs and cross-credentialing;
  • The shortage of EMS & fire providers;
  • Funding for the development of district and county-wide services; and 
  • The new community paramedicine legislation, which was passed without a funding source in place. 

For all of this work, Sechler noted that “building trust was key.” Much of their work in Wisconsin depended on years of informal talks, honesty, transparency and open dialogue. “It’s the same thing in your local areas,” Sechler said, encouraging leaders to return to their respective organizations with a similar approach to openness, sharing, and building personal relationships with legislators.  

The conference provided great information for leaders from the region, and an excellent platform for making connections with colleagues. For more information about the Midwest EMS Expo, please visit