Harrison deals with safety issues

CADIZ – Joyce Klingler spoke to commissioners Wednesday as an agent of the Harrison County Concerned Citizens LLC, a watchdog group of concerned citizens about progress on the issue of citizen safety concerning the lack of EMS coverage in the village of Cadiz. The shortage of volunteers has meant the village EMS service, which once boasted four squads, is currently reduced to a single active member and as such is unable to respond to any local calls.

Klingler said that the concern of local citizens is that the EMS service is not currently adequate and there was some fear that it would only be a matter of time before the situation led to a tragedy. Klingler subsequently asked the commissioners what they were planning to do about the situation.

Klingler also asked if the board could find a way to provide the one squad which the village of Hopedale had turned back in to the county to Harrison Community Hospital’s EMS service which has been handling the majority of calls.

Doug Crabtree, president of Harrison County’s EMS Association, provided a chart and explained that the commissioners had a contract with the county fireman’s association, “We have a duty to provide service throughout the county through that contract.”

He noted that the county operates on a three-department call out for EMS service, with one primary and two back up departments. The charged $498.00 for a basic run, $587.00 for ALS 1 and $755.00 for ALS 2 call outs. “The dollars collected are split 60/40 squad/county.”

“As per 2013 there were 89 drug license carded EMTS in the county,” said Crabtree. “We did have an EMS meeting last night in Harrisville and I do know those numbers have changed.”

Currently Hopedale does have a contract with the hospital they do not have a county ambulance at their station, they have turned it back in,” Crabtree explained the truck is parked at the county garage.

Crabtree added that the village of New Athens has picked up the extra workload from Cadiz and the county has already added one squad to their department where they have the additional personnel to operate two squads.

Klingler asked if that truck could be turned over to the hospital to provide them with an extra ambulance and Crabtree stated that he thought since it had been purchased with public funds that would not be possible even though the hospital operates as a non-profit. Klingler argued that the Ohio Revised Code did indeed allow such transfers and that she would research the exact ordinance.

Klingler stated that rumors have been floating through the community that the hospital was getting out of the EMS business and that would leave a large portion of the county population without adequate ambulance services.

“We are working very strongly at coming up with a solution to fix that,” Crabtree said.

“If one of your loved ones has a heart attack are you going to call are you going to call someone who has someone ready to roll or someone who has to come from work or somewhere else,” Klingler added that she has a great deal of respect for the volunteers and their sacrifice but questioned why there could not be a joint EMS organization which encompassed both the fireman’s association and the hospital.

The problem is that it takes a lot of time and money to get certified,” Crabtree said, adding that many volunteers are older and have retired, while younger EMTs have gone to different organizations often opting to work for the paid ambulance services.

“The county EMS association is fully aware of the situation in front of them,” replied Don Bethel. “This county has been served by volunteers for decades and we all owe these volunteers a debt of gratitude and to the hospital also for filling that gap at times.”

Kevin Milligan, vice president of operations at Harrison Community Hospital, said their squads are able to cover Cadiz when New Athens is unavailable and had made 377 runs in the village and 147 to Hopedale which is a total of 524 squad runs for 2013 to date.

“We have been working with the EMS association since I joined the hospital in 2011 and I understand history,” Milligan explained that he has deep roots in the county adding that both he and his family were volunteer firefighters in Freeport for generations. “I know what fire departments mean to the community and this county can not afford to be without the volunteers, they do more than just serve as first responders for EMS and fire. Allowing them to disband is just not an option.”

“There was a void and the hospital stepped in to fill that need and we continue to fill that void, and that void has continued to get bigger,” Milligan said the problem was not unique to Harrison County. “Every county across the state of Ohio is having this problem and every state across the country is having this problem.”

“With new regulations being put on volunteers and the economic conditions some families are working, some of them two jobs and it makes it hard for them to have the time,” Milligan stated. “I just want to make it clear that we support he county fireman’s association and we support the EMS association, I understand they are valuable, I understand that in the past there has been a contentious relationship I think we have made headway and improved some of that I know some of that probably still exists.”

“We at the hospital find ourselves in a different position than we were in five years ago, the financial position of the hospital has changed, the leadership has changed and we want to make sure that we are around in five or ten or twenty years to fill that role and that includes EMS service.”

“We did make the conscious decision and commitment to fill that void and as we see it there are four options which we presented to Doug and the commissioners back in May.

“The first option was to sell the service to the county and turn over the operation to them, Number two we would ask for some type of subsidy as a partnership to the county, whether that be in cash or in equipment, we have never said, at least since I have been here, that we can do this alone.”

The third option is to scale back and not run emergency calls, just transport service only,” the fourth option is to close EMS and contract out our transport at the hospital,”

“We can no longer sustain the type of loss we are taking currently on our EMS service,” Milligan said. “It has never been the intent of the hospital to take over the EMS service.”

“We are more than willing to look at a fifth option if someone present s another option.” Milligan added that up until the meeting in May there had not been any movement. “If we are not part of that solution, we will at that time cut back and scale back on our services because of our financial position.”

“We are not trying to use this as a tool or lever to put pressure on anybody.” Milligan assured. “We will not let anybody go without medical service, we are not just going to show up one day and close our doors,because the patients and the citizens will pay the price for that. But we have got to aggressively move to a solution that i adequate and acceptable to the commissioners, to the residents and the citizens of the county, to the fireman’s association, because they are vital to this.”

“I know that the hospital is operating as a business and I just hope we can come to some arrangement which will ultimately benefit the residents of Harrison County,” commissioner Bethel interjected. “We are not at a crisis, but we have a deadline and we have to come up with a solution by the end of the year to a very delicate situation.”

“Many of these volunteers have been volunteering for decades, we are dealing with families, legacies,” Bethel added. “The answer is going to come from the EMS committee and they are veterans so we are confident they can come to some acceptable solution and we can financially arrange so they can stay in the game, We will get there.”

Palmer may be reached at mpalmer@timesleaderonline.com.