EMS talks heat up in London

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(Posted July 3, 2018)

By Kristy Zurbrick, Madison Editor

A standing-room-only crowd of more than 50 people packed London city council chambers June 21.

Nearly half of the crowd addressed council about proposed legislation that could result in the city leaving the Madison County Emergency Medical District (EMD) and running its own emergency medical services through the city fire department.

Mayor Patrick Closser proposed the legislation at a council meeting last month, stating the city could provide better coverage at a lower cost. On June 21, the legislation was up for a third reading and a potential vote. After three hours of often heated public comment, council opted to leave the legislation on for another reading.

“There’s a lot of new information. I think it could wait another meeting,” said council member Rex Castle, who led the meeting in council president Joe Russell’s absence.

Many of the people who addressed council were affiliated with the EMD, either as employees, former employees, or with other emergency medical services.

They raised concerns about staffing, experience, logistics, equipment and finances.

“You can run an EMS department out of a fire department, but will you run a great EMS department out of a fire department?” asked Jacob Gibson, who has worked as an EMT, police officer, nurse and paramedic.

Resident Margaret Cooper said the EMD has built up an experienced crew over its more than 40 years in existence. She said the city benefits from that experience. She also said she doesn’t want to see EMD employees lose their jobs. London’s contract with the EMD accounts for more than a third of the department’s revenues.

Resident Doug Pyles said the $2.18 per month in taxes he would save if the city took over emergency medical services isn’t worth what he says would be a decrease in expertise.

Steve Saltsman, who has spent his decades-long career in fire and emergency services, spoke up in support of the city running its own emergency medical services, as did resident and former city council member Jim Boyd. Both said any savings of taxpayer dollars and improvement in services is worth looking into. Saltsman added that cross-trained fire fighters is not a bad thing.

Resident Shirley Litchfield praised both the EMD and fire departments, but said she wants them to stay as they are.

“I know you are trying to save money, but I don’t think this is where it needs to be,” Litchfield said to council and to Closser. “(The two departments) each have their place in this community. They complement each other.”

Litchfield also touched on the strained relationship between EMD Chief Robert Olwin and Fire Chief Todd Eades. Others, including council members Richard Hays and Henry Comer, addressed the topic, too.

“How come you two can’t get along?” Hays asked Olwin and Eades.

Comer suggested a mediator be called in.

“We have an excellent fire department and an excellent EMS. Why can’t they work together?” Comer asked.

Dr. John Casey, an emergency medicine specialist and EMS director for the London Fire Department, said operational issues between the two departments are affecting patient care on both sides.

One issue involves run cards, the protocol that tells a dispatcher which emergency responder should be dispatched when an emergency call comes in.

Currently, Olwin sets the run cards for the whole emergency medical district. Casey said state law gives the fire chief that authority.

Olwin said that while that is the case, the spirit of the law is that the fire chief is in charge of fire emergencies, not all types of emergencies. Eades said he disagrees with that assessment and feels the EMD is not utilizing the fire department as much as it should.

Madison County Sheriff Jim Sabin asked if all efforts had been exhausted to resolve issues between the departments. He also said he had several questions about the city taking on its own emergency medical services, ones that he said council should have, too, about budget, manpower, and potential impact on mutual aid for the central part of the county. He urged council to keep public safety and service in mind and stressed the importance of a cooperative working environment.

Matt Furbee, vice president of the EMD board, said he would have liked to have seen better communication from the city about services and issues between the departments. He said the EMD board is open to discussing run cards and possibly lowering the tax burden on London residents.

Later in the meeting, Mayor Closser commented on the proposed budget for a city-run emergency medical department. He said the projected expenses, taking into account personnel, pensions, and operations, would be $2.4 million. He said revenues would come from three source–existing income tax, a 2-mill emergency services levy (to replace the current 3-mill levy the city pays to the EMD), and EMS billing. The total projected revenues would be $2.5 million, he said, leaving approximately a $100,000 carryover. The 2-mill levy request is part of Closser’s proposal and, if approved by council, would go to the voters on the November election ballot.

About staffing, Closser said the city would hire at least three additional full-time employees and up to six, along with increasing its part-time roster.

“And for those who say our current employees are not as skilled in EMS as other departments, I would say that we only hire the best and the brightest, and I would be willing to put our paramedics’ skills up against anyone,” Closser said.

Council’s next regular meeting is at 6:30 p.m. July 5.

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