In March 4th IssueBy Greg WellsTimes Journal Managing EditorEditor’s note: Though it is not the general practice of this newspaper to use confidential sources in a story in this case those who were not identified made the request because they demonstrated real expectation that they would be fired if their names were used. Confidential sources are protected from exposure by Kentucky law.
There are questions coming from staff at the Russell County Ambulance service, about how the service is being run and financed.
Some of those questions were put to Director Joe Flanagan this week.
When asked if the service had taken out a bank loan to cover operating costs, Flanagan said yes.
He said the ambulance board approved a $150,000 bank loan, adding he believed it had been taken out about September.
He said he didn't have all the data in front of him and he was returning to work just that morning after being out of the office for two weeks.
Flanagan, who has been in the job about a year, said he is undergoing exhaustive medical treatments for a serious illness.
Asked when the board had received approval from the fiscal court to add to the county's debt, he said it wasn't necessary.
"The county judge (Mickey Garner) was there when they decided about the loan," Flanagan said.
He also agreed that, yes the service had purchased their fifth ambulance, though he couldn't site any specific times during the last several years when all four had been deployed other than the off-shore boat race.
He also agreed that the service had paid a premium, "it wasn't much," for a special paint scheme on the new ambulance.
"It is red and blue, Laker colors," Flanagan said.
The ambulance cost in excess of $95,000.
Flanagan also agreed with what some employees had been saying. "No, I don't have my certification in Kentucky yet."
A paramedic for over 20 years, Flanagan held a Georgia certification when he came to work for the Russell County Ambulance Service and was directed at that time to get his Kentucky certification.
He answered charges by others that he had been out on ambulance calls by saying that he has driven the ambulance on some runs but that it was legal for him to do so.
He said it did not open the service, and the county, to insurance, legal, and civil liability when he drove the ambulance because it was not illegal or improper.
That statement drew scoffs from some of his staff, who site a legal requirement that an attendant or driver have, at minimum, a Kentucky "first responder" certificate.
He said he expected to have his certification soon.
One of the staff sited the board's response to the problem being brought to light, as another of the problems.
"The board kicked Charles out," said one of the staff.
Charles Shepherd, past assistant director, said he could not comment on the issue.
Repeated calls to the home and cell phone of the ranking member of the board, David Withers, went unanswered.
The head of the board, Beckem Wilson resigned after the most recent board meeting.
Withers was sought, in particular, in order to ask about the propriety of having a member of his family working for the ambulance service.
The unanswered questions run deeper, as his sibling also works for an automotive shop, while serving as the ambulance maintenance director.
Flanagan said he saw no problem with the situation.
The board has recently been looking into how it can increase income for the service, and after a protracted search the board's attorney was told at the last meeting that a copy of the board's incorporation as a taxing board were available.
In fact the board has taxed Russell Countians to the tune of over $300,000 for the last two years and over $288,000 the year before that.
Now there is some discussion of taxing local phone lines, which would show up on the phone bills of Russell County residents.
When the dispatch services were moved under the auspices of the ambulance board it was said repeatedly that the service would be able to handle the additional payroll and other costs.
After some months, in which Mickey Garner sought to oust one member of the board and increased his input into operations the director had resigned.
At that time the dispatch service had been working with the ambulance system for a time, and the service had about $150,000 in the bank when Mark Coots had resigned.