County to enter final negotiations with Life EMS.
By Allison Scarbrough, Editor.
HART — In a split vote, the Oceana County Board of Commissioners voted 4-3 Thursday, July 19, to enter into final negotiations with Life EMS for a “multi-year agreement.”
Several Oceana County EMS personnel attended the special board meeting, and many of them left the commissioners’ room visibly upset when the meeting adjourned.
Voting in favor of the motion were commissioners Denny Powers, Dean Gustafson, Martha Meyette and Andrew Sebolt. Voting “no” were commissioners Robert Walker, Larry Byl and Jim Brown.
The motion reads: “to authorize the county administrator to enter into final negotiations with Life EMS for a multi-year agreement to provide paramedic services to Oceana County including the related property lease agreements for buildings, vehicles and equipment.”
After nearly three hours of discussion last week, the commissioners voted 6-1 to terminate its contract with the union that represents Oceana County EMS. Commissioner Meyette cast the lone dissenting vote.
The votes follow months-long discussions of creating a “public-private partnership” with Life EMS. Many emergency workers and local citizens have been speaking out against the proposed agreement.
County Administrator Robert Sobie has described the “public-private partnership as a “regional approach” to EMS services, similar to what many area hospitals have been doing.
The motivation for changing EMS services is based on cost, particularly overtime pay.
“I supported the motion,” said Gustafson. “It was one for the most difficult things I’ve done since I’ve been a member of the board. He described Oceana County EMS as “an outstanding existing service that’s been around for many years. My concern was with the future and remaining as is. Partnering with Life (EMS) with provide us with a regional scope.”
“There is motivation for a private contractor,” he said. “Oversight is provided by a private sector. I am very sensitive to the issue. There is no perfect answer. I’m hoping this can go forward with a regional focus.”
“I am, along with many others, against the privatizing of EMS services,” said audience member Justin Jimison. “For every one person who wants privatizing, there are 50 against it.”
“Sometimes seeking a cheaper alternative does not mean you will get a better service,” said SEIU Healthcare (the union representing Oceana County EMS) Regional Representative Nanette Homan. “They don’t care about a cheaper alternative,” Homan said of the community members. “The board has done a real disservice to the community. I’m at a loss as to why you think this is a good thing. Their (community members’) voices came out loud and strong.”
Homan was referring to an evening meeting July 2 that drew 140 audience members. Many signs in support of Oceana County EMS are on display in yards all over the county.
“I was part of this group for 16 years when the ambulance service first started,” said former commissioner Larry VanSickle. “The community was proud. I think there are underlying reasons why you want to privatize. I think there is an undertow here today. This whole thing is going to stir until November. The whole community is upset with all of the turmoil that is going on. I think it’s worthy to explore other alternatives. The people that you represent have not been fairly represented. This is really the biggest can of worms that this group has opened up in 20 years.”
Chris Schoenherr, a supervisor for Oceana County EMS, said overtime is an issue is “across the board” for EMS organizations. “As a supervisor, I don’t know what we can do to boost morale. It will be at an all time low.”
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