Effingham Daily News, Ill.
After months of discussion about ambulance service, the Effingham County Board this week opted not to award a contract to RuralMed to be the sole 911 ambulance provider — despite a recommendation to do so from the board’s Ambulance Oversight Committee.
Board members Doug McCain, Heather Mumma, David Campbell and John Perry voted against awarding the contract, while Rob Arnold and Joe Thoele voted to award it. Elizabeth Huston abstained and Norbert Soltwedel was not present at Monday’s meeting.
The current contract with Abbott EMS as the county’s sole emergency ground ambulance provider expires at the end of April. County Board Chairman Jim Niemann said he was weighing his options on how to proceed.
“The board is going to have to come up with a solution for this,” Niemann said in an interview.
In a discussion before the vote, Huston recognized Ambulance Oversight Committee Chairman Arnold and his committee’s time and effort vetting the three ambulance services that submitted proposals. She said she has had discussions with a couple of the ambulance providers, first responders and the public, and all are concerned about the response times and fines.
“We haven’t discussed where the penalty money is going,” said Huston, referring to penalties the county would impose when an ambulance is late to calls. “I can’t vote for the (Request for Proposals) because there are so many open questions I would like to get answered.”
Niemann said without the funds being designated it would automatically go into the general fund.
While Arnold would like to see the penalty money go into the 911 fund, if possible, he added the oversight committee’s job was to select an ambulance service.
“So that is what we brought to the table,” Arnold said. “If you guys have additional questions, I understand. We are going to have to make a decision and how we are going to proceed with it.”
Campbell, the board vice chairman, said there are other people he would like to talk to before deciding.
“I was hoping we could table this for a little bit longer so I could feel like I was making the right decision,” Campbell said.
Perry said he has two concerns. One is that the RFP states the response time clock starts at the county building. He said it would make it harder for an ambulance provider that is out in the county somewhere on another call to respond to a new call somewhere on the other side of the county in time. The other is the County Board was limiting it to one ambulance service provider.
“I think we need to open it up to other ambulance services and put some ground rules in place on jumping calls,” Perry said.
“The Ambulance Oversight Committee only followed the directive from the board,” Arnold said. “We followed the guidelines given to us by the board. If you want to pursue a different direction, that’s up to the board.”
“I don’t remember us saying we wanted to limit it to one service,” Perry said.
Niemann reminded Perry the board approved the RFP on July 12.
“The board approved the RFP without opposition,” Niemann told Perry. “That would have been the key time to express it.”
“I know I expressed it at that time,” Perry said.
“But, you voted for it,” Niemann said.
Mumma said she would need more time to make a decision. She said after the Oversight Committee approved the recommendation, she received numerous calls and emails, and people were stopping her on the street to share their feelings about having just one ambulance provider.
“I would like to have some time, too, even though I’m not on the committee,” Mumma said.
A motion by Campbell to table the vote did not get a second, and the board voted 4-2 not to award the contract.
Charles Mills can be reached at email@example.com or by phone at 217-347-7151 ext. 126.
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