By Randa Wagner
June 18, 2014
Update - 06/19/14 – The long-awaited bid choice for emergency ambulance and telephone services in Morrow County was announced June 18, 2014 at the Morrow County Commissioners meeting.
The proposal from MedFlight of Ohio was selected as ‘the best, most responsive and responsible proposal’ by Commissioners Tom Whiston and Dick Miller. In their official resolution, the commissioners state they reviewed the proposals and had been advised by legal council to adopt a resolution to enter into contract negotiations with MedFlight, then execute the proposed contract upon completion of contract negotiations. Commissioner Tom Harden firmly voted ‘no’ on the resolution to adopt MedFlight’s proposal.
The meeting was attended by emergency personnel, local residents and Sheriff Steve Brenneman.
“Gentlemen, I really think you just made a huge mistake,” said North Bloomfield resident Warren Davis, to the commissioners. “I know you spent a lot of time on it, but I don’t think it was looked at properly.”
Commissioner Dick Miller responded it would have been nice to hear those comments earlier in the process, ‘before the horse was out of the barn.’ Davis said he had spoken before at meetings about it.
Darin Sieber commented it was the first time he had heard a commissioner vote ‘no’ on a matter, and Commissioner Harden said it was because he ‘didn’t feel it was the right proposal and the county has had a dedicated Morrow County Squad for years.’
“They have done a great job and no one is perfect,” Harden stated. “If there’s things that are not right, we need to try to correct them. My vote is not to award it to an out-of-county group.”
EMS personnel expressed concerns over the MedFlight choice.
Amanda Barrick, clerk for the Morrow County Firefighters and Squadmens Association, asked how long it will be before negotiations begin with MedFlight. Miller responded the next step will be to form an advisory committee of citizens to enter into negotiations with MedFlight to construct a ‘workable contract,’ hopefully ‘within a month or two, but we have until the end of the year to get this right.’
When asked by Barrick what happens if an agreement cannot be reached, Miller said the next choice would be considered, which was Morrow County EMS Inc. (Life Care). Miller acknowledged Morrow County Firefighters and Squadmens Association was the third choice.
“You just took a business that started here in Morrow County and ‘took it out’, plain and simple,” said EMS responder John Edwards. “You sold it out.”
With the new choice of agency, Edwards believes the residents will be paying higher medical bills, ‘whether (MedFlight) tells you they’re going to ‘soft bill’ or not.”
“One of MedFlight’s ‘things’ was they were going to use MedCare - which they own 60 percent of - to do hospital-to-hospital transports,” said Edwards.
“Do you have a basis for that statement?” asked Miller.
“That would have been at the employee meeting with MedFlight,” Edwards responded. Miller said that was not how he understood the subject in his discussion with MedFlight, adding it was not his understanding that people would be paying more.
“I guess that has to be seen,” Edwards said. “I totally disagree with this. We told you what our concerns were and we feel they totally fell on deaf ears and we also feel there were motives behind this, whether professional or very unprofessional. We will see where this goes, and we will welcome negotiations with MedFlight.”
At this point, Commissioner Harden stated, for the record, that Miller’s comments did not reflect his feelings on the matter and Harden did not have anything to do with the decision of the first, second and third choice of bids.
Barrick recalled that the issue early on was better pay and benefits for employees but the top two proposals ‘is actually going to make us lose money’ if the current income figures were not retained. The claim was MedFlight’s base pay is lower than the Squadmen’s Association.
“We tried to do everything asked of us in this RFP and still felt like we had forces working against us,” said Barrick. “I just wish that we could have all dealt with this in a professional manner to look at the betterment of the county and citizens we are here for.”
Cardington Fire Chief Gary Goodman expressed concern over commissioners never attending their meetings to inquire about any problems or why they were ‘looking somewhere else.’
“I’m concerned about the people in my community,” Goodman said. “I have (fire) runs all the time with squad people there. With someone else coming in, we have no clue what to expect. Someone could get hurt and I would be responsible.”
“The issue was not to say there was a problem,” Commissioners Whiston responded. “The issue was the contract was going to expire and we put out bids for service, and we would review those for who would best serve the needs of the contract. So to imply there is a problem, it’s as Tom eluded to; we’re not perfect, the organization wasn’t perfect and there had been problems in the past. But the decisions that we make are based upon best presentation from a business and service standpoint. That’s what we reviewed and made the decision based on.”
Whiston said he has heard no complaints about MedFlight’s service through the years.
“We simply chose, based upon the presentations and what was available, the best choice,” he said. “It’s not to detract in any way from the services provided by the Firemens and Squadmens Association and its members, who will hopefully continue to serve and provide. This is a management issue. The choice that we’ve made is from the standpoint of the overall direction and operations of the organization; not the people that are actually doing the day to day work. We need to be clear to understand that. Everything that I’ve seen from the standpoint of professionalism and the operations they do are good. The issue we were presented with was the issue of management. That is what we were basing our decision on.”
“I don’t have any problem at all with the people who work there and what goes on in the back of the ambulances,” Miller stated. “It’s strictly management and the way money is handled. The fact is the RFPs were put out, and we reviewed those RFPs on the basis of which was most responsive and [cost effective].”
Miller recalled the RFP from the Squadmens Association indicated they would need 3.5 mills to meet the requests of the RFP, which ‘puts them completely out of the improvement that we want.’
“That’s the only way we could do it without actually taking money away from us,” responded Barrick. “If you ran the numbers off of our report - just in hours worked - you could have figured that out, or I could have run them for you.”
“What we’re getting (with MedFlight) is the most responsive proposal, covering just about everything we’re asking, for [about] 2 mills to do the same thing that you’re proposal was, for 3.5 mills,” Miller said.
Miller noted past history, training certificates, past histories of organizations come into play, making it difficult for him to choose the current provider as the most responsible bidder.
Barrick asked who would be handling the dispatch for the fire departments and Miller said it was not yet decided on. There is a discussion in progress with the sheriff’s office.
The subject of National Standards came up, with the hope of commissioners for a paramedic on every squad and 8 minute response time to 90 percent of the county. The question raised of how that would be accomplished with a reduction to four squads, as was proposed by MedFlight, was something to be addressed in negotiations, Miller said.
Barrick asked if this is a purely business decision involving management issues, why couldn’t it have been worked out rather than risk employees jobs?
“Nobody is really trying to put anyone out of a job,” Miller said. “We’re replacing one non-profit with another non-profit. There will be an interview process, and MedFlight’s standards are fairly high (in that they will do background checks, etc.).”
Barrick said she just doesn’t know how to display a positive attitude to her coworkers during this time (of uncertainty), and Miller said it will have to be based on trust.
“I’ll tell you this right now, Mr. Miller,” said John Edwards, ‘I have a hard time trusting you right now. As a commissioners you’ve made comments in the paper you’re going to look out for the employees of Morrow County EMS, and we personally have looked over these proposals as a group and a union, and feel you have made the wrong decision.“
Miller said the commissioners issued the RFP in accordance with the Ohio Revised Code, reviewed them, and feel they are doing the best thing for Morrow County.
“We believe at the end of the day, the employees are going to be better off, the citizens of the county are going to get better response time and care, and we’re going to be able to coordinate all the assets in the county in a better and more responsible way,” Miller stated. “That’s the only reason we would want to go into that. For you to indicate that I’m not trustworthy as an individual or commissioner, you have no basis for that whatsoever in any form. I have never lied to or mislead anyone, I’ve been straightforward with any questions and if you have some example with some proof that I’ve ever lied to anyone about any subject, I would welcome you to bring it to me.”
Edwards questioned why, if the commissioners had a problem with the MCFFSA, they never attended their meetings or discussed the issues.
Harden said when he cast his ‘no’ vote (for the resolution to negotiate with MedFlight) he felt he was representing the majority of Morrow County citizens.
“I have not had one citizen come to me and say they wanted me to vote against the Morrow County squad,” he said. “Everybody that talked to me on the street and in restaurants was all supportive of the Morrow County squads.”
Miller countered with the same.
“I’ve had no one tell me I SHOULD vote for the current squadmens association,” he said. “I have talked to numbers of people who said ‘it’s about time we have proposals, that we start getting more value for our money; people have come to me and said ‘you’re doing the right thing.’ I’ve not had anyone come to me and say, ‘you should retain the squadmens association.’
When Commissioner Whiston was asked what feedback he had received on the subject, he said, “I do listen to people. I spoke with the EMA director yesterday about the issue and have spoken with the sheriff; people who deal with this on a routine basis.”
When asked if the commissioners were aware of a bankruptcy issue with MedFlight in Coshocton, Whiston said he spoke with the auditor in Coshocton over MedFlight’s financial performance there; he was told they operated with less than the total of levy monies. Miller said they were told MedFlight was well-received and left under good terms financially and service was good.
This is a good thing for the county, Whiston said.
“Is it a change? Yes. There’s going to be changes,” he affirmed. “A decision has been made and we can move forward and work with the squadmen’s association to transition that, continue the fine service we have had in this county, and improve upon it. We’re not only responsible for service to the citizens of Morrow County, but everyone that travels our interstate.”
“What’s happening now is we are going to have change,” said Miller. “The employees that are working there now (MCFFSA) should polish their resumes and get their certificates and education documents in line, make the best presentation they can and apply for positions. Right now you’re an employee of the Morrow County Firefighters and Squadmen’s Association. Prepare yourselves as individuals to be employed by MedFlight.”
Statement from Tom Harden
“About 40 years ago the citizens of Morrow County were faced with the loss of emergency ambulance service when the Craven Funeral Home discontinued emergency ambulance service for economical reasons. Many citizens of Morrow County stepped forward, led by Dick Young, and formed an emergency ambulance service which still exists today. However, that will end on 12-31-2014.
Since that time, many, many citizens have been a very important part of that service to the citizens of Morrow County, most of them being volunteers and unpaid for their time and dedication. The emergecny ambulance service has been funded mostly by a tax levy which has never been voted down; the citizens have always showed their support by passing the tax levy. They have continued to provide excellent and upgraded services to citizens of Morrow County.
I was elected by the citizens of Morrow County to represent them and to speak on their behalf. On Wednesday, I cast a NO vote in the matter concerning the [issue] of providing emergency ambulance service in Morrow County. I received many calls, talked with many people, attended many meetings and received NO complaints about the current service. I have personally used the current services and have worked with them many times during my 24 years as your Sheriff. Nothing is perfect, MedFlight cannot and will not be perfect. I feel we should work with the currect service to correct any concerns we have; they have always corrected any concerns we have with them. I feel that my NO vote was cast on behalf of the majority of the citizens of Morrow County and in the best interest of Morrow County, for now and in the future. I will always feel that the tax levy money should be spent in Morrow County,
Med-Flight is based in Columbus, Ohio. I will always stand by my NO vote.”
Statement from Dick Miller
From the Office of the Morrow County Commissioners: Mt. Gilead, Ohio (June 18, 2014) - “After concluding the legally required bidding process, combined with extensive consideration and research over the past few months, the Commissioners have voted to enter into contract with MedFlight of Ohio to manage and operate Morrow County’s current Emergency Medical Services and 911 Dispatch Center. The current contract with the Morrow County Firefighter and Squadman’s Association (MCFFSA) is set to expire on December 31, 2014 and will not be renewed by the County Commissioners. Several key factors were taken into consideration in the selection process, including the historical performance of each organization who submitted a proposal and their ability to meet the requirements in the formal bid request.
MedFlight is a non-profit organization that began operations in 1995 and has had a long time presence in our community and throughout Ohio. MedFlight has extensive experience in medical transportation and dispatching services, they currently operate 9 medical helicopters and 4 Mobile ICU trucks throughout Ohio and provide contracted dispatching services for Nationwide Children’s Hospital and Memorial MedFlight of Indiana. In addition, MedFlight was contracted through the Coshocton County Commissioners to operate Coshocton County EMS from 1999 to 2008, before turning operations back over to the County Commissioners.
MedFlight will work with the Morrow County Commissioners and MCFFSA to ensure a smooth transition and no disruption in service. MedFlight will take immediate steps to begin planning for improvements with the County’s current EMS service and will work with the Sheriff to improve the 911 system. Per the bid specifications, MedFlight will look to staff a paramedic on each transport vehicle to ensure the best care possible for all residents and those who visit our County. In addition, MedFlight will begin evaluating and enhancing wages and benefits for employees to help attract and retain experienced healthcare professionals.
The Commissioners and MedFlight will establish an Advisory Committee made up of community leaders to ensure transparency, good stewardship of resources, and to establish both short and long-term strategic plans for the EMS and 911 services in Morrow County. This will include an evaluation of the number of trucks needed to provide the best possible service, as well as current and future locations of EMS stations to improve response times for all residents.”