ELYRIA — City Council unanimously backed a call to end the idea of Elyria providing emergency medical service within the Fire Department and essentially told Mayor Holly Brinda to focus her energy on getting a new contract with LifeCare Ambulance Service.
Monday night all 10 Council members sided with Council Mark Craig, I-4th Ward, who was first to say the city was wasting time and money by exploring the possibility of taking over EMS. By doing so, they have given Brinda the directive to focus on updating the 17-year-old contract she said is not being completely followed by either the city or LifeCare and let the notion of the city taking over medical transportation rest.
“I think on a matter like this everyone had to make it publically and clearly known where they stand,” Craig said following the meeting. “This makes it clear that Council, which legislates, supports LifeCare and that should be followed by the administration.”
Brinda said she will do that for the near future.
“My efforts have been, and will continue to be, to evaluate the best, safest and most affordable emergency medical services for the citizens of Elyria,” she said.
But based on the tone of the meeting, it was clear Brinda was not ready to end the conversation.
Matters nearly turned into a heated argument between Brinda and Craig.
The exchange started when Brinda reminded Council members that despite what many may believe, she did not intentionally hide the fact that she hoped the performance audit would answer a lot of questions regarding the future of EMS in the city. The response she wrote to the audit, which was released along with the state’s final document, was first forwarded to Council for input. If Craig or others had concerns, then was the time to voice them — not after the audit’s release in an attempt to make it seem like she had an ulterior motive.
But just as Craig interrupted Brinda in order rebut her comments, Michael Lotko, D-at large, cut the tension by calling for Council members to vote on the referral Craig made in May.
“Council chambers is not the time or place for an argument,” he said after the meeting. “I did not want things to get ugly because we all have to work together for the residents.”
The unanimous vote diffused the situation by showing Council’s widespread support of LifeCare Ambulance Service and the lack of interest that exists for the city to take over EMS. Seated in the audience on two separate sides of the aisle were members of the Elyria Fire Department and Herb and Pete de la Porte, of LifeCare, none of whom had a chance to speak.
Brinda succinctly laid out her case as to why more discussion was needed to determine if the best EMS care is being provided. Among her chief concerns is the money the city is losing by paying for supplies firefighters use when they arrive as first responders on an emergency scene, the lack of data LifeCare has provided the city regarding their operations, and the lack of oversight the city has in ensuring the contract is being followed.
“Upon initial review of the contract, it is clear that both the city and LifeCare Ambulance Service are out of compliance with the agreement,” Brinda said.
Assistant Safety Service Director Bruce Shade said there are several points in the contract that are not being followed, including the city’s right to receive regular data on response times, an ongoing list of employees and their certification, the right to inspect LifeCare ambulances and equipment as well as records on transport charges to residents. In addition, the city does not have on file a copy of LifeCare’s performance bond or insurance policy covering the city from liability.
“I’m not saying LifeCare is deliberately not complying with the contract. Simply put, once a contract was negotiated, no oversight was provided and some 17 years have gone by,” Shade said. “I’m not saying they are not doing everything they should. We just, frankly, don’t know and we accept the responsibility that there should have been oversight and there wasn’t.”
Shade said there also is some ambiguous language in the contract that spells out where ambulances should be stationed in the city to ensure appropriate response times.
Council members did not like the term non-compliance as it was directed toward LifeCare.
“Saying they are out of compliance is a pretty harsh statement,” said Councilwoman Donna Mitchell, D-6th Ward. “You say they have not provided this information, but communication is a two-way street. Instead of saying they are out of compliance, we need to talk to them and figure out a way to work together.”
The contract also has said the city could establish a three-member ambulance evaluation board, but nothing was done to advance that idea in the past 15 years. Brinda said going forward she plans to narrow the scope of her investigation into compliance issues related to the current contract and appoint the board, which will be made up of two medical professionals and a third person of her choosing.
“I value LifeCare as a partner in the city,” she said. “More and more, there will be a need for public-private partnerships in the city, but we have to balance that conversation by doing the best we can to ensure our residents are getting the best possible service.
Vic Stewart, D-at large, said it’s not fair to LifeCare that they are being criticized for not providing information to a board the city never created.
“I think we can agree the contract needs to be looked at, but I question if we even need that board,” he said. “We have a law director and Mr. Shade, who has an extensive background in both the private and public sector. I believe we are capable of negotiating a new contract without a new board to study it all.”
Contact Lisa Roberson at 329-7121 or email@example.com.