Based on the work of an informal group of emergency medical services (EMS) professionals, the Delaware County Board of Commissioners approved the formation of the Delaware County Pre-Hospitalization Care System Board on Thursday and suspended the controversial EMS proposal sent to Liberty Township in November.
The board’s actions came after a presentation by Powell Police Chief Gary Vest, who put together an informal group of experienced first responders to look at the EMS issue from a different angle.
Vest presented recommendations from the informal group, which included himself, Patrick Brandt, emergency communications (911) director; Fire Chief John Donahue, City of Delaware Fire Department; Chief Tom O’Brien, Liberty Township Fire Department; and Chief Michael Schuiling, Delaware County EMS.
“We’ve been dealing with the symptom of the problem and not the cause of the problem,” Vest said. “The root cause of the problem is the county is not the same as it was in 1973.”
Vest’s statement was in reference to a resolution signed by commissioners on Nov. 15, 1971, implementing a permissive 0.5 percent sales tax throughout the county. The resolution states, “Emergency for the preservation of the public peace, health and safety.”
Vest added the four-decade-old decision was made when the only players were Delaware County, the city of Delaware and Liberty Township.
“Even the U.S. Constitution and the State Constitution have been amended since then,” he said. “It’s time to revisit the document and look at what it is.”
Vest said there are “over 200 medics operating 16 transport medic units and responding to over 10,000 calls annually” in the county.
“That’s not 1973 numbers,” he said. “I got concerned when I saw this becoming a public issue and not an operational issue at the local level.”
Vest added there needs to be “governance oversight” allowing the professionals to be more effective.
“The first recommendation out of this group is to establish the Delaware County Pre-Hospital Care System Board of Directors,” he said. “And have them provide the oversight to the operation, the quality of service, the policies, strategic planning, medical direction, training and operability.”
Having pushed for a unified EMS solution for many years, Commissioner Barb Lewis said she “wholeheartedly” supported the group’s proposal for a board of directors.
“As county commissioners, our two highest EMS priorities are to provide for the public’s safety and ensure operational efficiency,” she said. “Only by listening to our EMS experts will we find the best solution for everyone concerned.”
Lewis added that “after fine-tuning operations,” the county could consider options for cost-sharing and reductions. She then motioned for a resolution to formally form the board that includes all the EMS providers in the county, and to appoint Mike Frommer, county administrator, to head it.
Commissioner Gary Merrell seconded and then added a caveat.
“I fully support the motion,” he said. “… I move that we formally suspend the proposal we directed our county administrator to submit to Liberty Township and allow the EMS group to continue their evaluation.”
Exiting the session on Thursday, Liberty Township Trustee Shyra Eichhorn walked away smiling.
“I applaud the commissioners, chiefs Vest, O’Brien, Donahue, Schuiling, and director Brandt for shifting the focus back to regional collaboration with local control,” she said. “Thank you, commissioners, for acting on the concerns of the experts and your constituents by suspending the county EMS proposal.”
Eichhorn said things could have been different had residents not stepped forward.
“I can not thank the Liberty Township and Powell residents enough for the outpouring and overwhelming support of our township fire-based EMS,” she said. “If not for you, this would’ve ended very differently. Your voices made a difference!”
Afterward, Vest said he was “excited” with the outcome.
“I’m very pleased that everybody is taking a deep breath and putting it back into the hands of the people who really have the information,” he said. “What happened is we allowed money to guide the conversation as opposed to operations. I just want to see operations solved first and then … we can sharpen the pencil and people can talk.”
One of the organizers of “Save Our Services,” Rebecca Mount, said she thought that Vest’s analogy of treating the symptom and not the problem brought clarity to the situation.
“It finally puts the angst to rest,” she said. “We were put into a tough position, but I believe now that the commissioners are onboard, dealing with the entire problem, it will help us in the long term. The fact that they suspended the proposal assures us that we’re not going to lose our fire-based EMS, and having local control is the most important thing to many of the residents.”
Mount added she thought that partnering with the county to better the EMS system and to have a better working relationship is beneficial.
However, Mount emphasized, “Our system was never broken, and for anybody to ever believe that our system is broken, is ignorant. Our system was never broken. Our system is what other people aspire to have.”
Nico Franano, another of the organizers of “Save Our Services,” said he appreciated the commissioners’ thoughtful approach to put patient care first and to assess what those needs are before taking steps to shift EMS services.
“I think we need to understand what the problems and what the opportunities are before we propose a solution,” he said. “I applaud their appoint of the board, and I also appreciate their consideration to suspend the proposal to Liberty Township. We would certainly like to see that rescinded, but we’ll take that as a good positive step forward.”
Contact D. Anthony Botkin at 740-413-0902. Follow him on Twitter @dabotkin.