There will be no formal recommendation to the Edwards County Board of Commissioners before they vote on a contract to allow Wabash General Hospital to assume the operation of the county’s ambulance services.
The Edwards County Emergency Medical Services Board of Directors decided against making a formal recommendation regarding a contract for Wabash General Hospital to take over Basic Life Support services for the county during their January regular meeting Monday night. The board cited the county commissioners indicating that such a recommendation would have no impact on the decision as the primary reason for declining to vote either in support of or against the contract.
“My personal opinion is, I don’t see a reason for us to vote,” said Alex Bond, of the EMS Board. “It’s already been determined.”
Seth Fearn, Chairman of the EMS board, informed the rest of the board that steps are already being taken by the county to make the transition with WGH easier.
“They talked to (EMS Administrator) Tanya (Boewe) and I,” said Fearn. “I think they’ve already kind of made steps to have things in place when they do vote at their next commissioners meeting.”
The chairman also explained that the EMS board would need to continue to handle day-to-day operations until the contract could be fully implemented.
“I know we talked about our board, what purpose this board would have,” he said. “The impression I got was that we need to stay here until things are swapped over, mainly because of the assets; the ambulances and stuff like that.
“We’re going to be in charge of operations until everything is completely swapped over.”
Fearn noted that he was unsure how long the process would take to complete.
The EMS board did express concerns about the agreement to the county board during a joint meeting between the two bodies in December. During that meeting, Fearn cited rising personnel costs and a reduction in the number of ambulances that would be available at one time in the county, as the number of active trucks at one time would decline from two to one once the contract is enacted.
Boewe also added concerns over a clause in the contract that automatically terminates the employment of any EMTs hired by the hospital to primarily handle Edwards County should the contract expire or be breached or terminated. She also noted that current Edwards County EMS employees are still not sure what their pay rate or health insurance premiums would be if they decided to apply with the hospital to continue working in Edwards County.
Boewe did note a representative from the hospital was looking into rectifying both concerns, including an attempt to have the termination clause stricken from the contract.
Boewe, along with board secretary and treasurer Nancy Cowling, did encourage the board to vote on a recommendation regarding the contract to have a formal vote on record, The remainder of he board, however, reiterated that it would serve no purpose. One member of the board stated that he felt it could be seen as adversarial to vote against the contract.
“Then you’re just asking this person to be mad at that person,” said Travis Sharp on what a vote on the issue would mean. “It’s getting real petty at that point,
“A vote doesn’t matter.”
Sharp did note that he felt no pressure from the county board members to vote a certain way or to not vote at all.
Two West Salem residents present at the meeting, Jon and Patti Webber, expressed that the EMS board should vote, getting their recommendation on record and “fighting for what’s right.” However, some board members reiterated that they saw now point in doing so given the county board’s stance on the issue.
“The decision has already been made,” stated Board Member Debbie Haycraft.
Board member Levi McDaniel mentioned that the EMS board could still exist in an advisory role once the contract takes effect, but another member of the board expressed doubt that their advice would be considered.
“I agree with that, but at the same time, we’ve seen how this contract has gone, as far as they way that we’ve kind of been in the dark,” said Bond. “It’s a trust thing, but it’s hard to think going forward that what we would have to say as far as in an advisory role is going to make a difference.
“Just the way that this has gone down has left a bad taste in my mouth. It doesn’t really matter what we advise.”
Bond further emphasized that the complete lack of involvement in the process was what frustrated him the most.
“That’s probably been the most difficult thing for me,” he said. “I felt like we haven’t had a voice in all of this, even when we expressed our concerns last month. My understanding was that the whole point of the commissioners waiting until next month to take a vote was that the commissioners wanted us to digest (the contract), understand it, talk about it and vote on it today.
“But clearly the decision has already been made.”
The EMS Board verbally agreed to present the county board with a statement noting that they saw no need to formally vote on the contract. Fearn noted that they would check with Edwards County State’s Attorney Eric St. Ledger to see if a special meeting was needed in order to formally vote to present said statement on behalf of the EMS board.