At the start of the month, Matt Lindewirth was hired as deputy chief for the Cole County Emergency Medical Service. Just a few weeks later, he was promoted to chief.
Following a closed session meeting Wednesday of the Cole County Commission, Lindewirth was offered the position of chief of the ambulance service which he accepted.
Jerry Johnston submitted his resignation as director Monday. He said the commission has asked that he stay with the service as a paramedic and he is considering that.
"I accepted the position of deputy chief for Cole County after meeting with the county commissioners because their goals of 'excellent patient care, employee relations and building the best system in the state' align with my beliefs and goals," Lindewirth said in a press release. "Given the events of the past week, I am honored they have the belief in my education, experience and skills to meet their goals as chief of EMS.
"I will do everything to ensure the highest level of care to the citizens, to work alongside our employees and to build the best system in the state."
Johnston will remain as director until Lindewirth takes over July 9.
Lindewirth is originally from the St. Louis area but has been serving as EMS chief in Berkeley County, South Carolina. Johnston said Lindewirth is a nationally registered paramedic and holds a master's degree from Creighton University. He is also a lieutenant in the Navy Reserves.
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Lindewirth was able to increase the number of deployed ambulances by a third during his time as chief in Berkeley County, according to a biography provided by Johnston. They also increased staffing levels to the largest in the county's history which led to decreasing response times.
Prior to going to South Carolina, he worked 18 years in the St. Charles County and Meramec Ambulance Districts in Missouri as well as Abbott EMS, which provides ambulance service in Missouri and Illinois.
Johnston said it was his decision to leave the director's job and that he had no axe to grind, adding he enjoyed his year-and-a-half as director.
Johnston's resignation came after some longtime staff members were dismissed, followed by others resigning, in April. Those who departed said they questioned Johnston's leadership and suggested it was best he be let go. But the commission decided to stay with Johnston as director. This also occurred at a time where the service was down as many as seven to eight paramedic positions and was finding it hard to recruit those workers.
The service also went from 24-hour to 12-hour shifts, something those who left or were let go said was a mistake.
"A lot of the unraveling started when we went away from the 24-hour shifts, but I still believe that was the best thing in light of our call volume and as a safety concern," Johnston said Monday. "However, we quickly found out that 24-hour shifts are what the paramedics who work in Mid-Missouri like. They feel it gives them more flexibility in their schedules."
The service has had a high increase in overtime since the change was made, and Johnston and other supervisors have been filling in when there have been openings on the schedule.
The county has hired three new paramedics over the last couple of weeks and all other positions on the service are filled.
The service has a full-time staff of 54 people and 40 part-time staff. There have been 13 full-time paramedics working, with the budget allowing for up to 21.
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After meeting with staff earlier this month, Johnston recommended to the County Commission that the service remain on 12-hour shifts through September.
Lindewirth becomes the third director of the county ambulance service since the county took over the service from Capital Regional Medical Center in 2009.
In September 2015, county commissioners were approached by ambulance service employees, citing low morale and that the way the service was being run needed to change.
In July 2016, the commission reassigned Mike Shirts from ambulance service director to paramedic after EMS staff presented a vote of no confidence in Shirts.
At that time, the commission engaged Paramedics Plus LLC as a consultant to work on system enhancements to the operations of the ambulance service, including reorganization of personnel.
In December 2016, Johnston was hired as director after serving as an ambulance director of a service in the Oakland, California, area.