Sedgwick County (KS) Picks Longtime Paramedic as Interim EMS Director

A man on a stretcher is loaded into the back of an ambulance.
Photo/Sedgwick County Government Facebook)

Chance Swaim

The Wichita Eagle

(MCT)

Sedgwick County has named an interim director of emergency medical services from within the department’s ranks after Dr. John Gallagher was removed last week.

Gallagher agreed to resign following a Wichita Eagle investigation into the department’s struggles under his leadership. Sedgwick County paid him $85,177.85 as part of his separation agreement.

Kevin Lanterman, a paramedic with 29 years experience at Sedgwick County EMS, was chosen by county management based on a week of interviews with employees, according to a news release from the county.

Lanterman takes over as the department grapples with staffing shortages, ambulance shutdowns and slow response times.

“Major Lanterman has pledged to work with the existing EMS leadership team to continue recruitment, hiring and retention efforts and improve service delivery to the citizens of Sedgwick County,” a county spokesman said in a Friday evening news release.

Lanterman is a highly decorated paramedic who has been a shift commander for the past 16 years.

In 2017, Sedgwick County named him a member of the Paramedic Team of the Year for his role in the response and care of Wichita Police Officer Brian Arteburn, who sustained serious brain injuries when he was run over by a fleeing suspect in an SUV. Last month, Wesley Healthcare awarded Lanterman and several of his colleagues EMS Crew of the Year for their response to an emergency after Lanterman found a patient in distress while off duty.

Lanterman was one of 39 employees who spoke out against Gallagher in April during two closed-door town hall meetings with County Manager Tom Stolz and Assistant County Manager Rusty Leeds.

Lanterman called for Stolz and Leeds to remove Gallagher and Deputy Medical Director Dr. Carolina Pereira, who handed in her resignation amid the Eagle investigation and a county audit into EMS leadership.

Many EMS employees celebrated the decision on social media posts Friday night.

“Quite possibly the best news story I’ve seen all year,” wrote Cat Edison, a former EMS paramedic who quit the department this summer because she was fed up with Gallagher. “This is what a real leader looks like in case anyone forgot.”

Lanterman was not immediately available for comment.

Sedgwick County once had one of the best EMS departments in the Midwest, pioneering the pit-crew style resuscitation techniques that have been adopted around the country and winning national awards for providing life-saving care to cardiac arrest patients.

But under Gallagher, more than a third of the department quit. An Eagle investigation found this year EMS has reached fewer than a third of patients in potentially fatal emergencies within 9 minutes, a national standard for EMS response.

Paramedic Cole Mitchell, one of the most outspoken EMS employees against Gallagher’s leadership, said Friday night in a phone interview that Lanterman is “the best.”

“(Lanterman) can get us back to where we were and beyond,” Mitchell said.

“It will take a lot of work to restore morale and trust within EMS,” said Caleb Yoder, EMS paramedic. “Kevin Lanterman is perhaps the leader best suited for the moment: someone who has both the trust of the street personnel and the ability to work with county leadership to rebuild this department.”

Naming an interim director is one several sweeping changes announced by Stolz last Friday aimed at rolling back a 2019 consolidation of EMS operations and the office of the medical director, placing Gallagher — who had never been a paramedic — as the head of both departments without opening the position for applications.

The medical director and EMS operations have now been separated, as they had been for the first 44 years of the organization.

Stolz has committed to hiring new director of EMS through a competitive regional or national search. The county also plans establish an EMS Citizens Advisory Board to improve transparency and add oversight of the department.

A search for an interim medical director is ongoing.

Pereira, who remains on the county payroll until September, declined to allow the county to operate under her medical license. Emergency responders are working under the medical license of Public Health Officer Dr. Garold Minns.

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