York County Council scheduled to vote on new EMS contract

jmarks@fortmilltimes.comFebruary 4, 2013 

— Emergency squads waited months for a final version of their contracts for county service, and what they finally got this weekend was, according to one leader, a “slap in the face.”

“Those of us who have been involved from the beginning feel like we have basically thrown away and wasted a year of our lives, and the county went right back to what they wanted in the first place,” said Dick Mann, president of River Hills/Lake Wylie EMS.

Volunteer units like the Lake Wylie one and Fort Mill Rescue Squad, along with paid provider Piedmont Medical Center, have been in talks with the county for more than a year on how to provide emergency care. The state told the county it needed to move away from dual dispatch – when multiple agencies respond to the same incident.

York County Councilman Chad Williams represents Dist. 7, which includes much of Fort Mill. He said Council has been looking for a solution that would “end dual dispatch without ending the rescue squads.”

While timeliness is key, the county needs to show the state that the issue can be resolved “before they solve it for us,” Williams said.

Monday night (after the Fort Mill Times went to press), Council was to vote on the new service contracts. Yet it was “probably midnight or thereafter” on Friday night before squads saw the documents, Mann said. That’s also when Council members got theirs.

Volunteer units have several issues with the deal as it’s been discussed in the past. The most pressing one, one that some units have said could make them unable to continue, is that of medical control. Piedmont, the paid unit in York County and a competitor of volunteers, would be in charge of the doctor overseeing how all units operate.

Representatives from Fort Mill Rescue Squad weren’t available by press time Monday. The latest contract addresses that issue in an acceptable way, Mann said. But, he said, at a cost.

“It was one victory followed by several steps backward that more than offset the victory on medical control,” Mann said.

The new contracts could still place ambulances from Piedmont and volunteer units right beside each other in higher population areas, rather than spreading them evenly throughout the county. Legal liability is now a concern for squads. So are provisions that could impact who can operate past a certain point or whether trucks can be added.

The liability issue alone could create a situation where an insurer won’t sign a squad if it signs the contract and the contract requires the squad to be insured.

“Either way, you’re out of operation,” said Leo Yakutis, board member of River Hills/Lake Wylie EMS.

At Council’s most recent meeting prior to Monday, on Jan. 22, more than a half dozen Dist. 2 residents spoke about the need to keep volunteer agencies up and running. Dist. 2 includes the River Hills/Lake Wylie EMS, a free transport service.

Yakutis was concerned that as of Friday afternoon, his group still hadn’t seen the document to be voted on Monday.

The Lake Wylie squad had more than 400 online signatures and as many paper ones on a petition asking for a “no” vote from Council on the new contract. Yakutis said that parties who would be subject to any new rules should be sitting down together to craft them, and that someone “couldn’t ask for a group to be more frustrated” than volunteers are now.

“I’m a little clueless as to how the agencies are supposed to sign when they haven’t seen it,” he said.

Bruce Henderson represents Dist. 2. He said Friday he’d push for deferral to hold “another workshop or two.”

“There’s some things that still need to be addressed,” Henderson said. “It’s gone this far. I don’t see how one or two more workshops would hurt.”

Monday’s vote would be a “yes or no, up or down” decision rather than an ordinance requiring multiple readings. Henderson said areas of the county where volunteers are concerned – Lake Wylie, Fort Mill and Tega Cay in particular – aren’t the only ones at stake. Higher populations there mean volunteer and paid service there is a priority, while Henderson is highly concerned about response times and coverage in the more rural western portions of York County.

“We consist of all of York County,” he said. “It’s a York County contract.”

Henderson has long stated that he isn’t interesting in harming volunteer units. On Friday, he said he’s not even under the impression that the county can survive without them.

“Right now they are needed,” Henderson said. “It’s imperative that they are there, and can fill the gap.”

Williams said he didn’t know for sure what to expect, but that making a decision without unnecessary delay was important.

“Of course you never know what’s going to happen (during the vote),” he said early Monday. “It is important that we end dual dispatch.”

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