County may privatize EMS

Published 10:23 pm Friday, October 28, 2011

COUNTY EMS DIRECTOR BILL HOGAN expresses his concern Tuesday that the county must consider the needs of its employees, if it decides to privatize EMS services. Commissioners assured Hogan that the employees would not be ignored, if a change is made to EMS.|Justin Schuver

The Decatur County Board of Commissioners is considering privatizing the county’s Emergency Medical Services (EMS), but only if it saves money and protects the interests of existing EMS employees.
Privitazation means an outside private company would take over the management and operation of the EMS, which includes first responders, ambulances and paramedics. However, County Administrator Tom Patton noted that the county has only recently begun the research process.
“Back when we were developing the budget, the finance committee asked us to look at the possibility of privatizing EMS,” Patton said at a county work session Tuesday evening. “We have barely started the process. We have contacted three companies that do it, to ask them questions, but that is all that we have really done so far.”
Patton said there were three goals that the county would keep in mind, as it makes its decision whether or not to move the EMS to a private management company.
“It’s got to save the taxpayers money,” he said. “Our current employees can’t be hurt by the process, and there won’t be a decline in the level of service.”
Patton said he had contacted two counties with privatized EMS services, and told the board at least one of those counties was “very satisfied.”
Several commissioners expressed concern that the previous talks about privatization had not been openly discussed in the public. However, both Patton and Commissioner Dr. Earl Perry noted that they had previously discussed the matter at both budget meetings and finance committee meetings, which are open to the public.
“Our finance committee sessions were in accordance with state open meetings laws; they were listed and they were publicized,” said Perry, who serves as the chairman of the finance committee. “Anybody from John Doe Citizen to commissioners that are not on the finance committee could have attended those meetings and heard what was going on. There was no effort to make any secrets at all.”
Approximately 20 EMS employees attended Tuesday’s work session, a fact noted by Board Chairman Dr. David C. “Butch” Mosely.
“You wouldn’t have this room of people tonight if something wasn’t going on … or they felt something was going on,” he said. “I’m a little disappointed in the communication process.”
EMS Director Bill Hogan asked for the board to keep the EMS employees involved in any ongoing discussions.
“We have a lot of different points-of-view, that you might not have even considered,” he said. “We do this job every day and we’ve seen a lot of things. I just want to represent our folks and let you know they’re concerned about their future.”
Perry again responded that the county’s current employees would not be hurt by any move to a private firm, if it were to happen.
“I can assure you that, as the chairman of the finance commitee, we will be very cognizant of the fact that we must protect you,” he said. “Don’t think that we’re going to leave you by the wayside. You may have friends in other counties that were privatized, and you may have heard their bad experiences — we will not allow that to happen here.”

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