During Monday’s Liberty Township Board of Trustees meeting, residents pushed Trustee Melanie Leneghan to define a statement she’s made on several occasions in which she describes the township’s emergency medical services (EMS) as being “very broken.”
“I’ve never seen any calculations,” said Larry Coolidge, a Powell resident since 1973. “You were going to save us $3 million. Where does that number come from?”
Leneghan said the number is an estimate based on Delaware County’s proposal to take over the township’s EMS by replacing Liberty Township’s cross-trained firefighters/paramedics with the county’s paramedics.
“The one option the county proposed would have saved $3 million,” she said “That is the only number I ever said, and it was in reference to the county’s proposal. I don’t believe you’ve heard any numbers come out of my mouth since then.”
Coolidge compared the township’s average EMS response times to the national average and others within the county. He told her that the township’s EMS response time was the lowest of all. He asked her how she expected to improve a response time that was already that low.
“It improves by sending the closest, fastest vehicle every time,” she said. “It’s wrong to not send the closest, fastest vehicle, and I’ve been trying for six years to make it happen. Until there was a proposal from the county, no one would cooperate.”
In a Nov. 19 Delaware County Board of Commissioners session, Commissioner Gary Merrell, a Liberty Township resident living in the Dornach subdivision, made the comment, “The current system is not working or as well as it could or should.” He explained his comment by recalling a time when EMS was dispatched to his home at 4 a.m.
“We had a situation at 4 o’clock in the morning that required an EMS run,” he said. “It took 15-20 minutes for that run to get to my house to take care of my wife’s needs. Berlin (Township) is closer, Delaware County EMS is closer, and Orange (Township) is closer. We waited for Liberty (Township) to get there, because the structure of Liberty Township is such that many (EMS stations) are closer.”
Since Merrell’s comment, Leneghan has used his story as an example in defending her statement of the township’s EMS being broken.
Leneghan told Coolidge the reason for not sending the closest EMS is because the county’s 911 center run cards were not set up to send the closest.
“You’ll have to talk to the head of 911,” she told him. “He’ll be here at the next meeting, and he can explain how it works.”
“Is this more of an adjustment with the 911 operator than disrupting our EMS service?” Coolidge asked.
In a phone interview Tuesday, Patrick Brandt, director of the Delaware County Emergency Communications 911 Center, said, “The run cards have been corrected for several months.”
Leneghan told Coolidge the answer was to turn the run cards over to 911, “so they can ensure that every time that Liberty Township residents call 911, the closest and fastest vehicle will be dispatched.”
Brandt added, “Under the Ohio Revised Code, that is the duty of the fire chiefs under their authority.”
Trustee Shyra Eichhorn, who is on record as being against the proposal from the county to take over the township’s EMS, said, “I keep hearing about all these issues about broken systems. I don’t see it. I don’t see the numbers in the analysis when I do it.”
According to a handout Eichhorn distributed to those in attendance Monday, data shows that Delaware County EMS is not the township’s primary mutual aid partner for EMS calls.
“We use the the closest and most appropriate partner per situation,” Eichhorn states in the document. “The other partners provide over 70 percent of the mutual aid received versus Delaware County’s 30 percent.”
The other partners mentioned in Eichhorn’s analysis include the townships of Concord, Orange and Washington, as well as the cities of Delaware and Columbus.
Leneghan again emphasized that the closest vehicle has not always been sent, and she told residents that The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center team of medical directors are now involved with the 911 center.
“The new OSU medical directorship is training them to ask different questions, because they feel they have not been asking the right questions (of 911 callers),” she said. “In addition to sending the closest available vehicle to every Liberty Township resident … We’re also going have a cohesive unit between our number one mutual aid partner, which is Delaware County.”
Brandt confirmed Leneghan’s claim of the 911 center working with the OSU medical directorship.
“We’ve had a medical director for many years,” he said.
Trustee Michael Gemperline said that the EMS chiefs from Liberty Township, the city of Delaware, and Delaware County have met to discuss the matter at hand, and they have asked the residents to be patient. He noted Liberty Township Fire Chief Tom O’Brien will be giving a presentation on what the chiefs have discussed thus far during the next trustees meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 19.
“We’re not going to be laying anyone off,” he said. “Let’s wait to the next meeting, and our chief will give a presentation. I believe he is going to present what he wants to see happen, because it will come from what he knows will give better service to the community.”
Gemperline then asked if there had been a change proposed by any of the three trustees to which the residents quickly pointed out the recent change in the medical director from 28-year veteran Dr. Warren Yamarick to the OSU medical directorship.
Leneghan also proposed that the current funding model for the township’s EMS is not sustainable through property taxes.
“Second of all, I want sustainability,” she said. “It’s very difficult, based on property taxes, to have long-term sustainability on medical care. The beauty of the county EMS is it is financed by sales tax, which is growing exponentially.”
Leneghan added that based on the fact the county has a revenue stream that the township doesn’t, the township needs to partner with the county.
Eichhorn disagreed, stating her research shows the current EMS model is sustainable through property taxes.
“Going back to your Fitch report, even though you keep citing about the recommendations, if you read the Fitch report it points out a great deal of issues with the Delaware County EMS system,” she said. “When they were hired, it wasn’t for them to look at us specifically, it was for them to look at Delaware County. And after that came out, the only community that has caused the uproar has been Liberty Township.”
Eichhorn also pointed out to her fellow trustee that “the report wasn’t even a final draft.”
“The document was never adopted as the final (draft), and it talks about the things (the county) needs to fix first,” she said.
Fitch and Associates of Platte City, Missouri, is a study and a corresponding master draft plan commissioned in 2018 by the Delaware County Board of Commissioners.
Contact D. Anthony Botkin at 740-413-0902. Follow him on Twitter @dabotkin.