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Officials Brace for Possible Loss of Volunteer EMS

BLANCO COUNTY, Texas -- State officials in the next few weeks could decide to pull the licenses of the ambulance provider for southern Blanco County and its director.

Such a move would put a strain on nearby services that would fill in the gap and increase emergency response times. But area officials say they are optimistic that the Blanco Volunteer Ambulance Corps, accused of failing to monitor controlled substances, will prevail in its case.

"Everything seems to be quiet, and operations seem to be going smoothly," said Blanco County Commissioner Paul Granberg, whose precinct includes the EMS office. "I had kind of forgotten that we had all that turmoil here a couple months ago."

Earlier this year, the Department of State Health Services proposed revoking the licenses of the corps; its director, Mark McMain; and staff paramedic Evelyn "Suzy" Armstead .

An audit found that McMain had dipped into stores of the drug fentanyl 237 times over 16 months without medical authorization or proper documentation. McMain told state health department officials that he was giving the painkiller to his wife.

McMain has been barred from treating patients but is still director of the corps.

The state health department suspended Armstead's paramedic license for 18 months, accusing her of either helping McMain or not reporting his activity. The probated suspension allows her to continue treating patients.

However, the state has made no final decision in the cases against McMain or the corps. McMain did not return two phone calls requesting comment last week.

In March, the state accused McMain of other violations, including that he falsified license renewal applications in 2003 and 2007 by failing to disclose that he was charged with misappropriating $20,000 from the Blanco Volunteer Fire Department in 1992, a felony, and received 10 years of probation.

The federal Drug Enforcement Administration is also investigating a criminal case against McMain related to that incident, but no charges have been filed.

Should the state revoke the corps' license, Blanco Mayor Pro Tem Ron Houston said that officials in nearby Johnson City and Spring Branch have agreed to provide emergency services to residents in southern Blanco County.

But, he said, losing the corps would greatly increase response times in the area.

"It would affect so many people. I just don't believe the state would do that," said Houston, a former volunteer for the corps.

The volunteer ambulance corps is funded through the South Blanco County Emergency Services District , which collects tax revenue from residents. The rest of the county is covered by the North Blanco County EMS. Its director, Tim Vasquez, did not recall a call for comment.

Jerry Myane, the president of the South Blanco district, said, "I haven't heard anything that makes me believe our entire unit is going to be shut down."

Myane said he's been told that initial results of an audit of the corps' finances in 2006 and 2007 did not reveal anything unusual.

The district gave the ambulance corps $228,000 in 2006 and 2007 for a new ambulance and monthly expenses. The corps has been paid $48,000 so far this year.

The district's secretary and treasurer, Nancy Kellner, said no financial records exist from before she started on the board two years ago.

Kellner said that this week, she will release budget records that the corps must submit each year to the district, in response to a request made by the American-Statesman under the Texas Public Information Act.

The corps has refused to release financial documents requested by the Statesman.

In March, the Statesman asked the corps to provide financial audits, employment contracts, drug logs and reports on treatment visits to McMain's wife. After the agency didn't respond within 10 days as required by the state law, a complaint was submitted to the Texas attorney general's office. The case is pending, attorney general spokesman Tom Kelley said.

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