EMS personnel were doomed to fail with bad leadership in place

Published 2:33 am Monday, April 7, 2014

There is a reasonable expectation that when someone calls 911 in an emergency seeking help, someone will respond. Unfortunately, that was not the case for a south Seminole County family last month.
When Seminole County first responders determined help was needed responding to the call, they called for mutual aid from neighboring Decatur County Emergency Medical Services — but we didn’t answer the call. While it seems doubtful that responding to the call, regardless of the timeliness, would have saved the victim’s life, it doesn’t change the fact that a Decatur County employee had a serious lapse of judgment in making the decision to not respond.
But, don’t place all the blame on this one particular employee. It was only a matter of time before something like this would happen. In my view, the responsibility of this situation lies with the people who have the authority, the people who have caused such angst and apprehensiveness in our EMS workers. Most of the EMS employees are hard working, dedicated and capable people. But these EMS personnel have not been set up to succeed by their superiors.
Those people are the six elected county commissioners. This situation falls squarely at their feet. If each of those six people looked in the mirror and really considered the situation in its entirety, I think they would agree with me. They allowed the situation to fester to the point of infection.
For the past 18 months, the commission has discussed the option of privatizing our EMS system. It has been discussed at numerous meetings, there have been several special presentations, and several votes to solicit proposals from private operators. Yet, we have accomplished nothing.
We have accomplished nothing except fostering an environment that led to this most recent unacceptable event.
Several different times, with the most recent being Sept. 24 last year, the commission asked administrator Gary Breedlove to request proposals from private providers so that a decision could be made to either contract with a private company or continue operating the EMS internally. The commission is still waiting on those proposals.
Only after the commission voted March 25 of this year to instruct the county attorney, Brown Moseley, to solicit the proposals is progress being made. At least four different companies have expressed interest in operating the ambulance service in Decatur County.
The original discussion to privatize EMS arose for financial reasons. The department traditionally operates at more than $500,000 deficit each year. The fiscal year 2013 county audit shows the deficit at $460,000.
Last August, the commissioners voted to reduce one of three 24-hour ambulance shifts to a 16-hour shifts. The move was sound in theory, but was poorly executed and, within a month, we reverted back to three 24-hour shifts. And the issue has not been discussed in an open meeting since.
These discussions to privatize combined with the failed attempt to reduce the shifts, and the corresponding reduction in pay for some workers, have led to a working environment for EMS employees that is unsustainable. Imagine if you worried and wondered about your job for more than a year, never knowing what the future held. It would affect you too.
Monty Bullock, a long-time veteran of our EMS department, and its most vocal employee, addressed the commission several times over the past year voicing his concern of the future viability for the county-operated system.
Bullock said the county’s EMS service was at a “dead-end” with poor equipment, low morale and many employees looking for other employment. He urged the commission to privatize the operation.
The commission should have taken Bullock’s concerns and comments more seriously.
Last fall, the commissioners voted to have the Georgia EMS department visit and evaluate the county’s system. The findings were less than positive. The assessment group found poor management, administrative deficiencies, lack of policies and procedures, inadequate maintenance of facilities and equipment and lack of communication between EMS, other community partners, county management and the commission.
In response to these findings, commission chairman Frank Loeffler said, “What they told us was mostly what we already knew.”
The obvious question is, if the commission knew of all these problems, what was done to correct them? The answer — nothing — is troubling.  I agree with  one commissioner’s statement that no one in Decatur County, including the administrator or any of the commissioners, is capable of correcting these issues.
If we are incapable of providing a viable, life-saving ambulance service, it is time to find someone who can.

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