By Randa Wagner
April 8, 2014
April 9 is the final day for bids to be submitted to the Morrow County Commissioners for the emergency medical services contract in Morrow County.
Now the wait begins.
Commissioners will have a big job sifting through what each agency has to offer and how much it will cost to get as many of the requested services listed in the RFP (Request for Proposals) as possible.
Agencies that held prebid meetings with the commissioners were Community EMS of Southfield, MI; MedCare of Marion County; LifeCare Ambulance of Elyria; Knox County 911; American EMS; Morrow County EMS and MedFlight of Columbus. This is the first time in over 40 years the bid process has taken place this way, and the commissioners think it’s overdue.
Rumors are circulating of EMS employees considering forming a union in the interest of saving their jobs, but the commissioners say that may not serve their best interests.
The Morrow County Firefighters and Squadsmans Association is a non-profit 501c3 and a private organization,” Dick Miller explains. “They are not county employees and not a government operation. Even though it’s called ‘Morrow County EMS,’ it’s not a county organization. The contract is with Morrow County Firefighters and Squadsmans Association.”
If the employees were to form a union and another non-profit, or LLC, or another company were to get the contract, the labor union cannot force that group of people to hire any of them. They are not bound to that as if they were county employees.
“Our RFP says we want the company to hire 75% of the current employees (minimum): that’s our intent,” Miller reiterates.
“The premise is, if they become unionized and they have a contract with us, if that contract is extended to another party, then their relationship as being unionized can’t be broken - that company would have to recognize that union,” Whiston explains. “That’s not the case here. This is a private 501c3 we have a contract with - they can’t force us to hire them again (just because they are unionized).”
“It is my understanding it will probably hurt their chances rather than help their chances retaining their jobs,” Miller says. “We’re here to make sure we hopefully keep those people that were here that are doing that work. People have the right to organize, but they have to be prudent and make sure it’s a good deal for them.”
At the April 2 commissioners meeting, 22 emergency personnel, media representatives, and residents showed up to hear an exchange between EMS employees and the commissioners over the bidding issue. An hour and a half of discussion clarified some questions and raised others.
Commissioner Miller emphasized the commissioners want the service to remain private and not governmental.
“The purpose of the RFP is the same as it was in 1972,” he said. “We used about the first 2 or 3 pages of that original RFP and expanded it to match what we believe we’re going to need in the future in Morrow County, given the change in demographics.”
Miller explained in the RFP they are looking at locations and what can be done to cut response times.
“The RFP is saying to those who respond, “Tell us what you can do with the money you have available in the way of giving us some plans that match the future.”
He said the RFPs themselves will be judged in three different ways: the lowest and best price; the most responsive bid (how many items in RFP can you provide at that price?); and most responsible bid (a look back at how the company has performed in the past).
“These companies that are coming in really need to hire local people that are familiar with the area and well trained and well paid and with benefits,” Miller said.
Lt. Roger Meyer of Morrow County EMS led a discussion on concerns of emergency personnel over possible changes in operations at the 911 center.
“Why did the commissioners not approach any of the EMS employees asking what they felt they needed as employees as the county EMS before putting it in the RFP?”
“When we looked at the level of pay you have and no benefits, I said we’ve got to take better care of these people,” Miller replied. We have to ask the market, can they pay you benefits and more money and offer you a good, secure employment situation? Where you can rely on working and staying in Morrow County? You must be terribly devoted to do it for the amount of money you do.”
“It’s not about the money,” Meyer said, speaking for his coworkers. “We do it because we care for the community. It’s not about the benefits - that’s what we’re here for. I could go somewhere else and make more money, but I want to be in and serve in my community. We like our employer and the community we serve.”
Meyer felt if they were going to state in the RFP what they want for the employees and their desire to keep them, he thought they should talk to the employees there and see what it is they feel they need.
“You’re wanting the best bang for your buck, well we’ve done it for years,” Meyer said. “Why would you go ask for something that’s going to cost a lot of money? That cost is going to come back to the community.”
“Until the proposals come in, we have no idea what we can offer you,” Miller responded. “What I would urge you to do, once we have firm proposals from, maybe, the top two bidders, there might be an opportunity for you to meet with them directly and see what they are offering to you. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the market out there.”
Miller said EMS personnel stated (during their pre-bid meeting) they would need another million dollars to do a station relocation plan.
“They want 3.2 mills instead of 2 mills,” Miller said. “We as commissioners are not being responsible unless we look to the market to find out what we can do within the two mills. We might have to ask for 2 and a half mills - but we’ll not know the answer until we have the proposals in.”
“How do you intend to fund the station relocation, employee raises and additional benefits without raising the millage of the EMS levy?” asked Meyer. “You said it might come to raising the millage of the levy but, in the RFP, you specifically say it will be at no additional cost to the [taxpayers]. Raising that levy will be an additional cost to the citizens.”
“Maybe,” responded Miller. “We don’t know that 2 mills is the wrong number. In the RFP, it’s a request for proposals. We’re asking for specific items and what we’re saying is, ‘can you do these withing the 2 mills? If you can’t, then tell us what the cost to do that is.’”
“Raising wages and adding benefits with those 2 mills isn’t going to cut it,” Meyer insisted. “That’s general accounting.”
“The books down there (at the EMS/911 Center) have not been audited for three years,” Miller stated. “The statements we have - we have no idea if they are right or wrong. There’s a state audit being conducted as we speak, so we do not have audited financial statements for the current operation. Even though the contract calls for them, they decided not to do them down there. We have to have audited statements before we can analyze that.”
Miller said the successful EMS operations have the ability to ‘computer model’ the number of runs, calls, etc. and, since the commissioners do not have that expertise, they are looking to the ‘market’ to give them that information.
“We can figure out from their proposals what is possible,” Miller said. “We dwell in the realm of possibilities here. We’re trying to be responsible and we believe the approach we’re taking is within the law, follows the Ohio Revised Code, and is completely above-board.”
“If I remember reading the contract right, it says ‘is subject to,’ not ‘required to’ audit, which is different,” Meyer said of the subject of audits.
Miller said the Ohio Revised Code has changed since the contract was first written and requires any organization that receives tax dollar to be audited by the state.
“You have an audit committee whose purpose is, once you’ve had an audit by the state or outside CPA that will certify it, then that audit committee reviews the audit and reports back to the supervising authority,” said Miller. “I’ve long been concerned about internal controls and internal audits. When there’s a million and a half of taxpayers dollars and another $600,000 in soft billing that comes in, I’m concerned about the co-mingling of funds between 911 money being spent in areas its restricted not to be. There’s a lot of concerns and a lot of good reasons there should be a state audit and someone should look at the books. The law requires it.”
Meyer said EMS has a finance and audit committee that reviews each month the expenses and ‘makes sure everything calculates out.’ Then that information gets reported to the board.
Meyer also asked what national benchmarks the commissioners are referring to in the RFP when it comes to EMS?
“Those questions should come from the people who are making the proposal,” Miller replied. “They should state what benchmarks and standards they’re using in their proposal, such as ‘we are complying with this, this, this, etc. since there are different benchmarks. We are not requiring specific ones.”
On the subject of station relocations, Meyer said the current EMS is bound by their contract and cannot make changes in locations.
“That should be in the proposals that come in,” Miller said. “[Bidders] need to take a look at response time, how they can improve it, and make a recommendation as to where these things would be.”
“The way it’s being put out to the media is making this association look bad,” Meyer said of Morrow County EMS, “as if we’re putting stations where they don’t need to be. That’s not true. We’re putting stations where the contract says they need to be. It’s not this association’s problem; we are bound by a contract.”
“Yes,” said Miller, “and at the end of this RFP, there will be a new contract that may involve that but, what I think will happen now is, whoever happens to be the successful bidder will continue to operate things as they are, and then implement [their plan].”
“We’ve been serving Morrow County for 40 years and have a working relationship with law enforcement and the fire department,” Meyer said. “If another company comes in, we can’t guarantee that relationship is still going to be there the way it is now. Have you, as commissioners, even approached the fire chiefs to see if these (squad) trucks can stay in the locations they are at?”
“I cannot believe that people as dedicated as you and our volunteer fireman are would not be able to figure out how to get along with each other,” Miller replied. “I got a letter from Johnsville (Fire Department) saying, well, [they] may move out whoever the new person is. Likely they’re going to be kicking John Massey out of there, and I can’t imagine that happening. John works up there with people you and I know, and you worked with forever. Chances are good you’re going to be pushing your own people out of places. I can’t imagine the fire personnel would do that.”
“You can’t assume they won’t do that,” Meyer said. “An investigation process should have been done before this went out, saying if this would be an option. You have these bidders coming in thinking they are going to have these stations when they may not. That’s going to be another expense that will piggyback on the taxpayers.”
“That’s not your concern,” Miller said. “At this point, just wait for the [proposals to come in and see what they are - what we have to work with.”
Meyer also told the commissioners EMS employees were getting phone calls for interviews from MedCare and Community EMS. They had not applied to those companies for work.
“Has there already been a guarantee to the bid for a contract?” Meyer asked.
Miller said no, there was not.
“We are getting phone calls and being told by them if we don’t show up for an interview, we will NOT be employed by them at all,” Meyer stated.
“That’s news to me,” Miller said. “I’d like to more about that.”
The other concern Meyer mentioned was Morrow County EMS’ working relationship with LifeLine in Morrow County. If a new contractor is selected, Meyer said, there is a risk Lifeline could lose their work in the county. “You have another business that could possibly go out of business because of what you decide here.”
As for the state training certification that was revoked, Meyer said the certification was voluntarily surrendered and the mix up was something EMS reported to the state.
“It’s not something we were trying to hide from you,” he told the commissioners. “It’s [information] you receive from our board. We invited the state in. Same as with the embezzlement in the past you mentioned. WE invited the investigators in. It’s nothing we haven’t blown the whistle on ourselves.”
Meyer said as far as the commissioners being notified of the loss of certification, “our contract with you is for EMS service, not for a training site. That’s above and beyond.” If EMS had contracted with the commissioners to provide that service, then it would be an issue, he said.
Miller said it was a complicated issue and involved ethics and ‘doing what is right’ in the ‘spirit of the law,’ and what is shared with the taxpayers. He noted when he spoke to the other commissioners about it, they had no prior knowledge of the loss of certification.
“When something of that magnitude takes place, we really should get a ‘head’s up,’ instead of hearing about it in the news media,” Miller said.
“It was mentioned in your board minutes that you get,” Meyer said. Miller asked for a particular date and time those board minutes were issued, and Meyer said they could be produced.
Other emergency personnel were on hand to make statements and voice concerns. The commissioners noted that copies of all bids are available to the public after the deadline (April 9).