In March 11 IssueBy Greg WellsTimes Journal Managing Editor
After the usual invocation, review of the minutes and approval of financials-which are never read to the audience-Ambulance Board interim director David Withers spent the bulk of the meeting defending the leadership.
Withers, who took the helm at the meeting, said the board is open and willing to answer questions.
When asked by one of the audience if it were true that the service could not get paid for runs with an insufficient number of certified staff on board, and if that put the service at risk for lawsuits, he proceeded to defend the actions of Ambulance Service Director Joe Flanagan, but not to address either of those questions.
When asked by the press repeatedly how the board planned on getting the service back on solid financial footing he said they were looking at several things, but could only name one. He said they have talked about a surcharge on local phone customers.
After several more times of being asked where the money would come from, since the service has gone through the $140,000 in reserves from last spring and $100,000 of the $150,000 borrowed last fall to pay operational costs, and the nearly $100,000 spent on an ambulance. The only other solution he would hint at was "talked to the county judge and both mayors…"
He said that when they took over the emergency dispatch center no one knew how much it would cost to operate the new enhanced system.
Mark Coots, the previous service director said there was a balanced budget for that part of the system. He also contested Withers' figures for income in the dispatch budget.
Withers said the income was just over $50,000 but Coots said the figures from the state had shown over $170,000 in fees scheduled for payment to the service when he left.
"They assured us those receipts would go up, not down," Coots said. "You need to find out where that money is."
Withers also defended the added charge for painting the newest ambulance "Laker colors," along with an anchor on the side of the new truck as being a demonstration of pride in the schools and public relations.
He added that the service is putting together a public relations committee. No mention was made of how that would improve the service's financial situation.
On the subject of ambulance calls being answered with the uncertified personnel on board, staff member Troy Walters, defended the actions of Ambulance Service Director Joe Flanagan saying he only drove the ambulance when there was not certified personnel available.
He added that other times he had been listed on paperwork as being on sceen Flanagan had come to the scene in his vehicle to serve as director on the scene of a large accident.
Sherry Daniels, setting in for WJRS newsman Joey Hoover, continued to question why the service was not bringing in enough money to cover the operational costs.
"Are collections behind," Daniels said.
Withers said collections were no worse than normal.
The acting chairman blamed the ambulance service's financial problems on the dispatch center.
Nothing was heard from that department.
Board Member Steve Bunch's longest address at the meeting, aside from the invocation, was to make the motion to purchase a new computer for the book keeping department.
The cost estimate for that equipment was just under $1,200. Withers had suggested the purchase could wait, but voted in favor of it.
In department reports a new employee handbook for the ambulance service was accepted, as was a training and testing manual for dispatchers.
Dr. XXXX Jones was approved as the Medical Director for the service, and it was reported the doctor has until next March to complete the requisite training.
The board was also told that the grant money for new stretchers has reached the service's accounts and that new grants for other equipment have either been approved or are likely.
It was also announced that a state inspection of the service is due on the 23rd of March.
Accepted, was the resignation letter of the only serving board member who was on the board before dispatch became part of the system, Beckham Wilson.
There had been an effort by County Judge-Executive Mickey Garner to oust Wilson from the board not long after Garner had appointed Withers to the board.
Garner had been forced to relent after pressure from the public and the staff had come to bare in support of Wilson and he was defended by counsel in a public hearing.
It was announced that a state investigation is underway at the ambulance service and after a lengthy closed-door session Director Joe Flanagan has been placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of that investigation.
Flanagan, who has been undergoing the ordeal of cancer treatments since late last summer had been placed on medical leave late this winter.
Named as acting director was Terry Hancock.