Fulton County’s emergency medical services would operate more efficiently and use taxpayers’ money more responsibly if the county’s EMS entities united as a single operation under the county comissioners.
That’s the proposal County EMS Coordinator Clayton O’Brien introduced Tuesday at an EMS County Executive Board meeting held at the Museum of Fulton County in Wauseon. But not all of the entities are on board. One county fire chief said his department prefers to keep its own control and won’t participate.
The meeting was requested by County Commissioner Bill Rufenacht, who was present, and attended by several Fulton County fire chiefs and some of the county’s city and village officials.
Anticipating contention regarding the proposal, board member and York Township Trustee Robert Trowbridge began the meeting by flatly stating that only board members were permitted to speak during the proceedings. Trowbridge said if that rule was disregarded attendees would be asked to leave and the board would instead convene in executive session.
O’Brien told the board that finances represent one pitfall in the way the county’s EMS system is currently working. “If we continue down the same path the expenses do begin to outrun the revenues,” he said. “(M)eaning that we’ve tried to take some steps, in a way, to clean those up…to try to get everything back to where it could be the most efficient.”
He said there are currently inconsistencies among the EMS entities in response and patient care, and with personnel familiarity with equipment and training. O’Brien said there is also a lack of consistency in training and in advancement among EMS providers.
“Even in many cases many departments struggle to find personnel, whether it be on the full-time staff or the volunteer staff. It’s just tough to find people these days,” he said. “So everybody does share each other amongst the different personnel. They work at multiple different stations.”
He said he looked at all aspects of the county’s EMS services using the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats (SWOT) analysis. He said strengths include good equipment, providers who care about the citizens, and the fact that the budget that enables the system is spent properly. Weaknesses include inefficiencies, policies, county-wide training, and lack of operational control to improve the system.
“If you create one system under the control of the Fulton County Commissioners, this would unify the EMS providers,” O’Brien said.
The county’s fire departments presently contract with the county commissioners to provide resident care. Taxpayers currently pay $3.988 million annually for the county’s emergency medical services, in addition to a separate levy generating $256,000 annually. The funding pays for contract fees, medical supplies and equipment, and new ambulances.
The county EMS system has 18 ambulances – two in each fire department and two not used in regular rotation; four Advanced Life Support (ALS) trucks; and three Basic Life Support (BLS) trucks, the latter located in Fayette, Metamora, and Lyons. The county buys one ambulance per year.
Each fire department covers a designated number of miles identified as their EMS district, in which they are also responsible for fire calls.
Under O’Brien’s proposal, the county commissioners would, under a single contracted operation, oversee EMS services across the county, using 41 full-time employees in six stations, each providing ALS. The proposed stations would be located in Archbold, Delta, Wauseon, Swanton, Lyons/Metamora around Evergreen schools, and Fayette.
O’Brien’s proposal also suggests the arrangement would eliminate cross-training of personnel and the struggle to maintain volunteers. It would also allow for the streamlining of supplies, training, and maintenance of equipment, and better fiscal responsibility of taxpayers’ money.
O’Brien said though he drafted the proposal it does not benefit him personally, and emphasized he has no desire to fill its new position of EMS chief.
“And, actually, this proposal puts me out of a job,” he said. “So, I am truly a believer of this system, and that I think it will clean up the operations of this, but this is ultimately no benefit to me.”
Several people spoke out during a protracted discussion considering the pros and cons of both the current and proposed systems. Board member and Gorham Township Trustee Trevor Hibbard said more talks about the proposal are necessary.
Commissioner Rufenacht said he and fellow commissioners Jeff Rupp and Jon Rupp would like to hear county residents say the current EMS system needs a few tweaks but ultimately works well. “But what we’re consistently hearing is, the system’s rotten. And if it is, then we want to go to something that’s going to be better,” he said.
Rufenacht said the county’s EMS entities need to tell the commissioners whether they prefer to keep the current system but with improvements. “But it doesn’t seem like very many people are happy,” he said.
Remarking about the amount of equipment the system needs, O’Brien responded, “It’s kind of looking that way, that we’re wasting some money, and we just need to tweak things.”
He said the proposed system would likely still be feasible if one or more of the current EMS entities decided not to participate.
“I do think that there’s a lot of flexibility here with what I’m proposing, is because I feel that that is the most effective and efficient way to run operational-wise of any EMS system as a whole – to be the best bet,” O’Brien said. “We can’t, every five years or even 10 years, continue to go back to the taxpayers and ask for additional money. We have to think about how we’re always going to work together as one.”
As for the present EMS entities working together, “It’s something that is said but not necessarily that happens,” he added.
Archbold Fire Chief Dave Davis expressed concerns about having enough available personnel, adding, “We’ve been running (the EMS system) since 2001, and I hope there’s more conversation than just tonight on this, and I hope it involves the (fire) chiefs, because I really think that we need to discuss this a little bit more…I think that we should just make sure this is something that isn’t going to affect us in a negative way.”
And Wauseon Fire Chief Rick Sluder, who attended the meeting, said Wednesday his department won’t join a unified EMS system. He said much of the information presented at the meeting was not factual, including a claim that the proposal would save costs for citizens.
“Now you’re going to have to have separate fire and EMS levies, and the citizens are going to end up paying two different tax levies to get the service that they’re getting now,” he said.
The Wauseon Fire Department wants to maintain full control over EMS operations within its service area, Sluder said. He said the department will continue to participate in mutual aid, “but we’re going to control our own policies, procedures, rules, regulations, and employees. We can’t have another entity trying to tell us what to do and trying to restrain us with funding because it’s just not working.”
He said the WFD has been the EMS provider for Wauseon and Dover and Clinton townships since the system’s inception, and there’s no need for change.
“There have been no operational issues,” Sluder said. “The funding issues are where we’re at here…We don’t see where pulling that funding from the fire department and creating 47 new full-time employees at the county level – that’s not going to save the taxpayer any money. That’s going to cost the taxpayer.”
He added, “Essentially, what we have is an argument over money going on, where they need to sit down and determine what’s the best for our citizens and our taxpayers, not what is best for who controls the money. They need to get back to worrying about the taxpayer.”
The next EMS County Executive Board meeting will be held Aug. 25, 6 p.m., at the county museum.
Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.