County forms ambulance committee

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Monroe County Board members, from left, Bob Elmore Terry Liefer and Delbert Wittenauer discuss the formation of an ambulance committee with EMS supervisor Jason Nonn.

Monday’s meeting of the Monroe County Board focused on a committee being formed to review a proposal by Red Bud Regional Hospital and its parent company, Community Health Systems, to take over operation of the county’s ambulance service.

The board voted on the formation of an ambulance committee to review options and recommend any changes; County Board Chairman Terry Liefer and Bob Elmore voted  in favor and Delbert Wittenauer abstained.

The proposal was first reported last May in the Republic-Times. At that time, commissioners said CHS was being granted a 120-day period of confidential access to operational information concerning Monroe County EMS.

This was provided for the specific purpose of enabling CHS to develop a proposal to take over operation of the service from the county.

At that time, it was noted that a force driving review of ambulance service operations was possibly permanent cuts to state funding of numerous programs.  That challenge has continued. It was also said then, and repeated Monday, that no decision has been made on the matter.

Since that time, CHS announced it is spinning off 38 small-market hospitals, including Red Bud Regional, into a new company called Quorum Health Corp. That deal will likely be finalized in June.

The county board said CHS’s ambulance service proposal is ready, and an item identified as “Ambulance Committee Meeting” was published on the agenda for this week’s meeting. It drew a turnout of several off-duty ambulance personnel to hear and ask questions.

Jason Nonn, a shift supervisor for Monroe County EMS, spoke on behalf of ambulance personnel. He initially asked why there had been no formal notification to ambulance service management that such a plan was being considered.

Monroe County Board Chairman Terry Liefer said he had assembled what he hopes will be deemed a fair and balanced group to examine the proposal from Red Bud Regional Hospital and its parent firm.

Asked again why there had been no formal notification of this, Liefer noted the committee was in the process of being assembled and it had been placed on the agenda as is normally done. He told ambulance service personnel that they would be able to examine the list of committee members and talk to them on the matter.

Nonn asked why this was necessary, because he was under the impression the service was operating in the black.  However, he was told that this was based on a county tax expenditure of a minimum of $300,000 being injected into supporting the operation annually.

Liefer assured that there was no question of the quality of care provided by Monroe County EMS. He said the county is trying to find out if it could receive better service for the same amount, or the same level of service for a lower cost. The task of the committee, he said, is to recommend whether to keep operations as is or to make changes.

Commissioner Delbert Wittenauer raised the issue of the fact that the county’s citizens had voted to subsidize ambulance operations and questioned whether this money and currently owned equipment could be provided to a private enterprise without another public vote. He also asked if the state’s attorney had been asked to review the proposal and see if it was even legal.

Liefer agreed with that suggestion, although he noted the proposal is not a firm contract offer and was simply a place to start discussion.

Finally, Liefer said six people have offered to serve on the committee. He was seeking a seventh from the Valmeyer area to complete the group. At this time, the following people have offered to serve on the committee: Gene Henkler of Columbia, James Maurer of Maeystown, Mark Yeager of Waterloo, Joe Gregson of Hecker, Dwight Boehm of Waterloo and Glen Mueller, President of the Monroe County Farm Bureau.

Liefer assured ambulance service personnel that all committee meetings would be conducted in accordance with all applicable rules and laws and the public would be informed about meetings being scheduled.

A vote was taken on the committee’s formation, with Liefer and Bob Elmore voting  in favor and Wittenauer abstaining.

In other matters, it was announced that bids to offer energy audit services to identify ways to save energy expenses and maintenance costs will be opened at 3 p.m. Monday, April 18.

The Monroe County Board will meet next in regular session on April 18, at 8 a.m.

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