EMS providers raise contract concerns with council members

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By Stan Welch
A special called meeting of the Anderson County Council last week provided several of the emergency medical services providers with an opportunity to raise serious concerns about the proposed contract. It also gave the Council a chance to reassure the providers that they too share the goal of providing the best services to the citizens of Anderson County.

Both opportunities were needed, as the contract, as written, had caused a good deal of heartburn among the service providers. Several of the squads’ representatives expressed concern about what they considered draconian penalties for failing to meet performance standards. Countering those concerns, members of Council readily agreed that those elements of the contract needed to be revisited and would be.
The performance standards themselves were challenged, most effectively by Craig Lawless, who serves as the Pelzer squad’s business manager. Referring frequently to the very study of the EMS operations authorized by the Council, he pointed out that approximately half of Anderson county has a population density of five hundred people per square mile.
National response times for areas of that density are in the thirteen to fourteen minute range. The contract calls for response times in the ten minute range. Some members of council were clearly surprised to learn of that discrepancy, and acknowledged that an adjustment needed to be made.
Councilwoman Cindy Wilson raised the issue of the CAD system, and the technical issues associated with it in recent years. County Administrator Rusty Burns announced that an expert in such systems had been brought in and improvements were being  made. The basic problem with the system, which is designed to display the location and movement of units once they are dispatched, is that the AVLs, or automatic vehicle locator units, are transmitting the information, but the on screen display in  the dispatch facility is incomplete.
The CAD system is also supposed to provide a complete report on performance by the various squads; information that is used to determine compliance with the performance  standards. That capacity has not been available in recent years. Pelzer Squad board chairman Danny Durham told the council that someone along the way either deleted or disabled that part of the CAD software. “We are being asked to provide that information, and without that software, we simply don’t have the administrative manpower to do that. The CAD system is a key element to any squad’s operations.”
As the meeting progressed, the tension between the two groups eased as well. Several of the squad representatives had come to the meeting with the attitude that if the tone of the meeting continued to reflect the tone of the county’s responses to the written concerns the squads had submitted, the squads were prepared to refuse the contract.
Lawless reflected that attitude in a milder sense, when he described the contract as presented as “unrealistic, unachievable and a financial hardship” to the squads. Both public safety committee chair Ray Graham and Council chair Tommy Dunn assured the squads that they had no intention of putting the squads out of business or setting them up to fail. Graham was very adamant in reiterating that the Council greatly prefers to see the current system continued; but he also repeated the Council’s insistence on greater accountability by the squads for meeting the performance standards, once they are adjusted and clearly set.
Dunn agreed with Durham’s earlier complaint about the CAD system’s inadequacy. “There is no reason that this problem should have been going on for two or three years. The council has some accountability issues to deal with as well as the squads.”
Both sides agreed that they share a common goal, and both agreed to further meetings and negotiations as they move towards a new contract. The current contract was extended earlier till the end of August. The possibility of a full year’s extension was clearly without support among the Council.