By Stan Welch
The sense of finality that was evident at the last County Council meeting, when the contract to operate Anderson County’s Emergency Medical System (EMS) was awarded to a single server, might prove to have been premature.
Less than a week later, cracks may be appearing in the deal, the largest of which is the challenge to the procurement process lodged by four rescue squads/EMS providers. Even before the July 20 meeting that saw hundreds of citizens appear to express their displeasure with the arrangement, those four entities had retained legal counsel; counsel who pre-filed a complaint about how the entire process was handled.
Central to the challenge is the issue of a conflict of interest, although it also lists the allegations that the bid was non-responsive to the request for proposals (RFP); that it is contrary to the terms of the RFP; and that it does not represent the best value for the county and its people. Germane to the conflict of interest is the fact that Medshore founder, and current shareholder in Priority Ambulance, Greg Shore is an employee of the county. He has served as coroner for more than a decade, while also operating Medshore Ambulance.
Exacerbating the issue is the fact that Councilman Ray Graham, chairman of the public safety committee which recommended approval of the Priority bid, conceded in open session on July 20 that the process had been mishandled. He went so far as to apologize to Don McCown, who has worked with Shore in the coroner’s office for many years, for putting him in such an inappropriate and awkward position.
That position was as a member of a three person committee who studied the Priority bid and put together the final presentation made to the Council just prior to the vote on the contract. Steve Kelly, director of EMS for the county was kept off the committee because he serves as a Lifeline helicopter pilot in the Upstate; a much lesser conflict of interest, according to Graham.
(Author’s note: Last week’s report on this matter identified McCown as an employee of Medshore. That is incorrect. McCown’s professional association with Greg Shore has been through the coroner’s office.)
But perhaps the most serious problems are simple logistics. When, or if, the contract dispute is settled, Priority is still going to need two crucial elements to its plan, as presented in the proposal; personnel to man the ambulances and Quick Response vehicles which are the foundation of the plan; and some place to stage those vehicles.
Several EMS veterans questioned the wisdom of such a radical change in the system, especially during a nationwide personnel crunch in the industry. One such official stated bluntly that any paramedic or EMT “floating around out there is either brand new, or is someone you don’t want on your ambulance. Trained medical responders are like cops these days. They are hard to find, and if you find one, they can pretty much write their own ticket.”
A board member of another squad reported that the great majority of his squad’s trained personnel have already made arrangements in surrounding counties. “We told them that they needed to take care of themselves and their families; that we could offer them no guarantees. We told them if the situation ever changes, we will welcome them back with no hard feelings and no questions asked. In response, most of them reacted as the professionals they are, saying they will stay with the squad until the contract runs out on August 31.”
Securing locations to base the vehicles presents its own challenges. At least one squad, which mans several stations in the northern end of the county, has been approached about renting its locations to Medshore/Priority. Several squads may face liquidation of their assets in order to retire their debts.
The Anderson County fire chiefs’ association held its regular bi-monthly meeting Monday night, July 26. Not surprisingly, the topic of EMS came up. “Most of the chiefs anticipate being asked to house EMS units, but according to Three and Twenty Chief Tommy Keaton, it isn’t that simple. “These fire departments, the buildings are owned by the communities. The Three and Twenty department has a board of directors, like most of the volunteer departments. Whatever they tell me to do as far as use of the building, that’s what I’ll do. I will say that I have not been contacted about that at this time, and I don’t know anyone who has. I cautioned the chiefs last night not to get ahead of ourselves. We don’t even know if they intend any such thing.”
At least one rescue squad has been approached with an offer from Priority to rent at least some of its facilities, s well as an offer to assimilate any trained personnel who might be seeking employment. As stated above, such trained personnel are in demand across the Upstate and the country. How many choose employment in Anderson county is just another piece of the puzzle.
Another chief wondered how anyone could enter an accurate bid without knowing what such basic costs would be. “Man, I just look at this whole thing and I wonder. Did they really think this thing through? If I planned my department’s actions like that, I wouldn’t be chief for long.”
If those issues can’t be worked out, and fairly quickly (Priority/Medshore take over on September 1), the situation could quickly become sink or swim for Priority. Should the ambitious plan fail, as at least once Councilman assures it will, the people of Anderson County face the very real possibility of having a greatly reduced EMS infrastructure; or in the worst case scenario, none at all.
Author’s note: One of the four complainants, the Belton EMS board met Tuesday night, July 27 to review the situation. The results of that meeting were nor available before press time.
By Stan Welch