County EMS union opposes ‘regional partnership’ idea.

May 17, 2018

County EMS union opposes ‘regional partnership’ idea.

#OceanaCountyEMS

By Allison Scarbrough, Editor.

HART — The union that represents Oceana County EMS ambulance service personnel strongly opposes an idea to “regionalize” services that is being explored by Oceana County Administrator Robert Sobie.

“… I am exploring a deepening relationship with Life EMS to provide EMS services throughout Oceana County,” writes Sobie to the county board of commissioners, May 10.

“We’re united with other responders that this threatens the wellbeing and safety of the community,” said Communications Representative for SEIU (Service Employee International Union) Healthcare of Michigan Adam Bingman.”

“We were completely blindsided,” said Oceana County EMS EMT Specialist and Chief Union Steward Jenna Soper. “We won’t be county employees any more — we would become employees of Life EMS.”

“In the coming weeks, and as it becomes available, I will present information to you that will describe the scope of services provided, financial arrangements … and other supportive information to help you decide if this is a viable long term approach to EMS service delivery,” writes Sobie.

Soper and Oceana County EMS Paramedic and Union Steward Steve Headland are deeply concerned how the proposed partnership with Life EMS could adversely impact the community, stating that ambulance service quality and care would go downhill. They said Oceana County EMS’s equipment is more modern than the equipment Life EMS uses.

“It undercuts the taxpayers who ultimately receive these services,” said Bingman, the union’s communications rep.

The union launched a Facebook page last week called “Help SEIU Save Oceana County EMS” in an effort to keep the community informed. Soper and Headland are planning to attend township meetings around the county to explain their stance on the situation.

“Fire, EMS and law enforcement are all one big family,” Soper said. “When this for-profit company takes over, there won’t be that anymore.”

“Community empowerment is there,” she said. “The (county) commission was elected to represent the community. There is too much at stake to rush through this process.”

“…basic ambulance service began with a couple of funeral homes prior to 1969. Beginning in 1969, the county board established the county ambulance service operated by volunteer basic EMTs. Fast forward to late 2003, the county hired an EMS director, and as noted, later resigning in late 2017,” states Sobie.

Lance Corey, who served as EMS director, resigned in December of 2017 to take a position in Kent County. A new director has yet not been hired.

“Therefore, the question I pose to you today is this, ‘Is a public‐private partnership agreement between Oceana County and Life EMS the next step in the evolution of EMS service delivery in Oceana County?'” Sobie writes.

Although EMS officials refer to the proposed idea as “privatizing,” Sobie said it’s a “public private partnership” that is being explored.

“The county board is not looking to privatize EMS,” he said. “It’s a contractural arrangement. It’s the same way we contract to do other types of work in the county.”

Oceana County EMS employees would be “evaluated” by Life EMS “to determine if they can do the work,” the administrator said. So, it would ultimately be Life EMS’s decision as to whether Oceana EMS workers could keep their jobs.

“We are surrounded geographically by Life EMS,” said Sobie, as Life EMS serves neighboring counties of Mason, Lake and Newaygo.

“Healthcare is regionalizing,” he said. “The healthcare landscape, including Medicaid and Medicare, is changing.” A regional approach may likely result in better use of tax dollars.

“We do care about labor costs. If there is an opportunity to reduce labor costs, we have a responsibility to look at that,” Sobie said.

Sobie also said the change could create quicker ambulance response times, but that has not been determined yet.

The county board of commissioners next meeting is slated for Thursday, May 24, at 9 a.m. Although as of May 16, the EMS issue was not on the agenda. Community members are allowed to speak about it during the “public comment” portion of the meeting. Sobie said the meeting venue has been moved from the county board of commissioners room in the courthouse to the community services building (which formerly housed the educational service district) at the corner of Griswold Street and Polk Road due to anticipated increased audience size.

This story is copyrighted © 2018, all rights reserved by Media Group 31, LLC, PO Box 21, Scottville, MI 49454. No portion of this story or images may be reproduced in any way, including print or broadcast, without expressed written consent.

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