When Laura Albert presented a sampling of her operations research a few years back in her adopted home of Middleton, Wisconsin, she drew the attention of one particularly interested audience member: the city’s mayor.
Impressed by Albert’s work on issues like emergency response and public services, Gurdip Brar invited the University of Wisconsin-Madison professor of industrial and systems engineering to get directly involved in the local community. Before long, Albert was serving on the city’s public safety committee. She’s since joined the municipality’s police commission.
Now, Albert has brought her public service—and expertise—to the state level. Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers appointed her to a three-year term on the state’s Emergency Medical Services (EMS) Board, which advises the Department of Health Services.
Albert is the only member of the board who’s neither an EMS professional nor a medical doctor, and she brings extensive experience modeling, analyzing and optimizing emergency services systems.
“I definitely have a unique skillset for this board, as somebody who has widely collaborated with different agencies and sees EMS issues more through a systems lens regarding the decisions service providers make,” she says. “The EMS Board has the potential to really improve health in Wisconsin and also potentially at lower costs if we’re able to find ways to deliver excellent care.”
Wisconsin faces several particular challenges regarding EMS, namely its rural makeup and aging population. According to the Department of Health Services, the segment of the state’s population that’s 65 or older will have grown 72% from 2015 to 2040. And EMS staffing, whether via paid professionals or volunteers, is an ongoing issue nationwide.
“It’s not a popular profession to go into, and volunteerism is on the decline. Those are things that are true everywhere, but these issues are accentuated in Wisconsin since we’re in a fairly rural and aging state,” says Albert, who adds opioid abuse as another strain on EMS in Wisconsin. “How often you use EMS is often a function of age, and so the state could be very vulnerable in the future.”
Albert says she’s especially eager to work with the board to inform and guide state EMS policy on matters such as alternative models of healthcare delivery. Under a late 2019 bill, Wisconsin EMS providers can participate in the Emergency Triage, Treat, and Transport Model, a federal pilot program that allows emergency response teams greater flexibility to transport Medicare patients to non-emergency clinics or provide treatment at the site of a 911 call.
At the same time she is helping shape the state of EMS in Wisconsin, Albert is also expanding her research on the topic into Europe through the Fulbright U.S. Scholar Program.
She’ll spend January through July 2020 at RWTH Aachen University in Germany, where she’ll examine the effects of different levels of EMS in a variety of European countries. For example, German providers often dispatch emergency physicians to incidents that reach a mandated threshold.
“In the international context, we’ll be able to do things that I wouldn’t even include in a model in the U.S.,” she says. “So I’m excited about some of those ideas—thinking more broadly about, ‘What is the appropriate way we should match these resources to patients?’”
Author: Tom Ziemer