Commissioners postpone decision on hiring ALS techs

Delay would allow Washington County ambulance companies time to review plan

Delay would allow Washington County ambulance companies time to review plan

November 17, 2009|By HEATHER KEELS

WASHINGTON COUNTY -- The Washington County Commissioners voted Tuesday to postpone a decision about hiring advanced life support technicians in order to give ambulance companies time to review the plan.

The county has been planning since 2007 to hire 12 ALS technicians who would be dispatched in "chase cars" to support volunteer ambulance companies as needed throughout the county. Those 12 technicians would cost the county about $560,000 a year.

Some ambulance company representatives have criticized the plan, suggesting the funding would be better spent if it were allocated to the companies to address staffing shortages themselves. At a meeting last week, the Washington County Volunteer Fire and Rescue Association's emergency medical services committee asked the commissioners to hold off on the plan for 45 days, saying they wanted to review data and possibly develop an alternative plan.

Commissioners James F. Kercheval and Kristin B. Aleshire vehemently opposed that idea Tuesday, saying the existing plan was the best one and further delay meant more potential for inadequate responses to emergencies.


Commissioners Terry Baker, William J. Wivell and John F. Barr, meanwhile, said they thought it was important to give the companies a chance to have their say.

"I don't have a problem with waiting up to 45 days for what I consider the experts in the field to take a second look at this," Wivell said.

The commissioners voted to have the county administrator work with the companies to find out how much funding each would need, then report back to the commissioners no later than their Jan. 12 meeting.

EMS committee chair Jon Snyder explained after Tuesday's meeting that giving funding directly to the companies might be better than hiring county staff because the companies best know their individual needs and would be able to react more quickly to changing staffing needs.

"We've been doing what we do for a number of years," said Snyder, who is chief of operations at Smithsburg Emergency Medical Services Inc. "We all have a vested interest in providing the best service possible to our communities."

Snyder said a countywide chase car system was a new layer of service that might be better to introduce after the needs of individual companies have been addressed.

Kevin L. Lewis, the county's director of fire and emergency services, told the commissioners he thought the "regional approach" of county-hired ALS technicians was best.

Kercheval agreed, saying that approach would give the county the most flexibility to move the staff around as needed and the county "quite frankly has the most transparency and accountability" for the funding.

Baker said he favored having the companies hire their own staff because he didn't like the idea of hiring new county staff at a time when local governments across the country are facing layoffs and budget cuts. Kercheval and Aleshire said the county would be paying for the new staff whether they were hired by the county or the ambulance companies.

"You don't take the financial burden off the public to provide the staff," Kercheval said. "It happens either way."

Barr, who abstained from breaking a tie vote on the issue at an Oct. 27 meeting, said he was frustrated that a meeting to discuss the issue with the ambulance companies was held last week while he was out of town on county business, despite his request that the meeting be scheduled for after his return.

Barr said he had concerns about the cost of the plan, the accountability of the companies and the appropriate order for implementing chase cars versus providing companies with supplemental funding. He said he decided to vote for postponing the decision to allow time for those issues to be investigated.

"I think that until this thing is totally resolved and worked out ... I just don't see where (waiting) is going to hurt anything," Barr said.

How they voted:

The Washington County Commissioners voted to postpone a decision on hiring advanced life support technicians to give ambulance companies time to review the plan.

John F. Barr - yes

Terry Baker - yes

Kristin B. Aleshire - no

James F. Kercheval - no

William J. Wivell - yes

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