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Columbia County Observer

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Privatizing EMS - Not the right thing to do
The Union Speaks

Mike Anderson addresses the Columbia County Commission.

I am here tonight to speak on behalf of the Columbia County EMS Association, IAFF Local 3510.

At the last board meeting this Commission unanimously voted to move towards the privatizing of this county’s EMS services. We are against this move.

We understand that the presentation given to you recommending privatization was based upon elements of the current negotiation process. This included a statement that the Union initially asked for a 7% raise and the Union rejected the county’s cost controlling attempt to reduce our overtime. It was concluded that "negotiations with the union had reached a stalemate and were deadlocked."

We believe it to be customary for employees to ask employers for a raise. It is just as customary for employers to deny raises and expect more for less from those employees. We believe that it is prudent for the negotiating process to run its course at the negotiating table and not in the public arena. 

My purpose here tonight is to provide additional information for your consideration concerning your decision to privatize EMS.

EMS currently staffs four ambulances with two personnel every hour of every day. Staffing is achieved by working a 24/48 schedule including holidays.

The county operates on a two week pay cycle. EMS employees are scheduled five shifts for two cycles and four shifts for one cycle.  This results in 832 hours of overtime each year just based upon our work schedule.  This does not include any additional overtime for covering special details.

Currently, there are eleven officially recognized county holidays.  It has been the well established policy of the county to pay employees regular holiday pay for the holiday and to pay holiday over-time to employees that have to work the holiday.

On the matter of containing cost by reducing overtime.

 The reality of the 24/48 schedule  produces the reality of the overtime.  The EMS budget has included this overtime and holiday pay. In addition, the EMS budget also reflects the revenue brought in through EMS billing.  During the 2009-2010 budget year, EMS billing achieved $1.5 million dollars of revenue.  EMS billing has been tasked with obtaining $1.3 million of revenue for the 2010-2011 budget year.  Privatizing will eliminate this revenue stream.  

Addressing the need to deny a raise and the attempt to reduce overtime compensation by privatizing EMS does not reflect a cost controlling strategy.

There is no evidence that this will save money. In fact, it suggests an increase in spending when you consider shifting the cost for EMS to the fire department.

It was recommended that the fire department respond as the first responder to all calls.

In 2010, EMS responded to approximately 9500 calls. The Fire Department responded to approximately 3500 calls. Fire trucks are less fuel efficient.  Fire trucks responding to another 6000 calls will produce a greater fuel expense. The added wear and tear will result in higher maintenance costs and the need to replace these expensive trucks more often. The result: an EMS first responder element by the Fire Department which will cost everyone more. 

The existing fire equipment is not configured to provide ALS [advanced life support] service which will be another added expense to address.  Not all of the fire personnel are paramedics. Most of them have only recently completed paramedic certification. They have not had sufficient time to gain adequate ALS field experience.

No evidenced has been presented that a private company will be able to provide a cost effective EMS service.

Private companies may discount an initial entry into an expanded market, but achieving a profit demands that they will increase charges or stop serving that market when they can no longer afford to lose money. If privatizing public services is the cost saving step to take, why not proceed with privatizing the entire fire rescue service?  Why just go halfway?

This move also leaves us with the additional question. Why was the county so quick to abandon its merger of EMS with Fire? The merger plan, as we understand it, did not contain any mention of privatizing EMS. The objectives were to cross train both departments in order to achieve more effective delivery of both services with the existing employees.

EMS in this county is a staff of highly trained and professional men and women that provide compassionate life saving care for the citizens and visitors of Columbia County, who suddenly become sick or injured.

 Privatizing EMS is simply not the right thing to do.

Thank you. 

This work by the Columbia County Observer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 United States License.

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