Kennett Township sticks with single-service EMS provider decision02/10/2021 11:36AM ● By Richard Gaw
By Richard L. Gaw
After several weeks of further discussions with emergency services professionals at two fire companies that serve their constituency, the Kennett Township Board of Supervisors reaffirmed at their Feb. 3 online meeting a motion made a month before that will make Longwood Fire Company the township’s single-source provider of advanced life support (ALS) and basic life support (BLS) beginning on March 1.
This will be a one-year agreement.
Under the guidelines of the agreement, Longwood, who is the current EMS provider for the eastern portion of the township – the area east of Bayard Road – will become the sole provider of EMS services in the area of the township that is west of Bayard Road.
Longwood will be operating two advanced life support mobile intensive care unit (ALS MICU) vehicles, two BLS ambulances and one ALS chase car.
In reaching the decision, the township follows the recommendation of a 2016 study created by the Regional Fire and EMS Commission that called for the township to explore the possibility of moving to a one-source provider of EMS and ambulance services – east and west of Bayard Road.
The path the township took to arrive at the final decision began in earnest last fall, and has been paved with opinions and disagreements between the supervisors. It reached its zenith at the board’s Dec. 2, 2020 online meeting, when after four hours of back-and-forth verbal tussles, the board voted 2-1 to approve the contract with Longwood – but delay its starting time until March 1.
Board Chairman Dr. Richard Leff and board Vice Chair Whitney Hoffman voted in favor of the motion and subsequently the delay, while supervisor Scudder Stevens voted against the motion entirely.
The reasoning behind the delay was to allow the Kennett Fire Company – who had been providing EMS support to the western portion of the township west of Bayard Road – time to resubmit a proposal no later than Jan. 20, which would be considered by the board. Soon after the vote to delay the final decision was reached, Hoffman and township Manager Eden Ratliff conducted joint and individual meetings with both companies, in order to potentially create a budget for a two-tier EMS delivery partnership model between the two companies.
The results found that the model would not be efficient, the argument of which was reflected in two letters sent by Ratliff to Kennett Fire Company chief Bruce Mitchell, deputy chief Steve Melton and vice president Gina Puoci.
Ratliff’s Jan. 21 letter indicated that the company did not formally provide a proposal to the township on or before the Jan. 20 deadline.
“Accordingly, and consistent with the Fire, Rescue, and Ambulance Services Agreement executed by the Board of Supervisors on January 4, 2021, all first due Advanced Life Support and Basic Life Support coverage will be assigned to Longwood Fire Company effective March 1, 2021,” Ratliff wrote.
Subsequently, the township then received a letter dated Jan. 27 from the Kennett Fire Company that proposed an EMS hybrid model that would use one MICU, a BLS ambulance and an ALS chase car – at a projected savings of $45,425 to the township.
“It is our stance that this hybrid model provides less expensive and more optimal coverage to the region,” the letter stated.
A second letter from Ratliff to the company on Jan. 28 further informed them that the fire company’s proposal was issued seven days past the deadline, and stated that it did not include a “comprehensive operational strategy for deployment” of the model.
Hoffman and Ratliff met with representatives of the company on Jan. 29 for a three-hour meeting.
Stevens objects again
Just as he had demonstrated during the Dec. 2 meeting – that was highlighted by a 90-minute argument that vehemently opposed giving exclusive EMS coverage rights to Longwood -- Stevens again voiced his displeasure on Feb. 3. He suggested that the decision had not taken into account that the proposal submitted by Kennett Fire and EMS would be less expensive that Longwood’s. While the Longwood proposal suggests a savings of $29,000 for the township, Kennett’s proposal would save $45,000, he said.
Stevens then reeled off several points, arguing that
· given the new agreement, township residents would be spending $400 more per each EMS visit from Longwood than from Kennett;
· that because there would be little chance for a Longwood “chase car” to be stationed at the Kennett Fire Company, it would result in a longer response time for Longwood to answer EMS calls;
· that the township’s decision may result in Kennett Borough dropping out of the six-member Regional Fire and EMS Commission, which may lead to the dissolution of the Commission;
· that personnel, human relations or quality of service concerns were never raised by either Hoffman or Ratliff during negotiations with Kennett Fire and EMS, and
· that the six-month discussion that ultimately ended in the township’s agreement with Longwood has been about saving the township money, especially given that Kennett’s proposal is “less expensive and less disruptive.”
Stevens then called for the postponement of the decision until Kennett Fire and EMS has had an opportunity to respond to Ratliff’s letter.
Hoffman opposed Stevens’ suggestion.
“Number one, we have sat down and we’ve talked to them in person since [the letter was sent], so therefore your point is not well taken,” she responded to Stevens. “Number two, we have already made a decision when we voted at our previous meeting, so this is not about postponing any decision. The decision has already been made, right?”
“It’s not right, Whitney, it can be changed,” Stevens replied. “Don’t ask me, ‘Right?’ when I don’t agree with you.”
Hoffman further explained one detail that supported her decision.
“One of the major problems we have is the way that the Kennett Fire Company is doing their staffing,” she said. “They are using people from their EMS service to staff the fire trucks during the day, because they don’t have a lot of volunteers during the day -- the busiest time for EMS service overall, with the highest utilization rate.
“Right when we need ambulances the most, Kennett Fire is pulling those folks off to go work on the fire trucks,” Hoffman added. “So there are fewer ambulances available, because they don’t have enough adequate staffing. They are working toward paid fire staff, but until that gets done, I think that there are people in the western part of Kennett Township who are put at risk for there not being any people on the ambulance at the Kennett Fire Company when there is a fire call.”
Stevens responded to Hoffman and Ratliff by saying that he considered “it most unfortunate” that he was not included in additional meetings with the Kennett Fire Company, and called the lack of communication “reprehensible.”
“Nobody passed that word on to me,” he said. “I am the one that has taken the front point on fire and EMS, and I am one of the co-makers of [the Regional Fire and EMS Commission]. I am deeply involved, as you all know, and nobody tells me that you had a meeting, that you talked about it, that they had answered your letter orally as opposed to in writing, and that Whitney has a written a letter that I don’t get a copy of, but it relates to what we are talking about.”
Stevens then accused Ratliff of “moving the goal posts at this late hour,” as well as addressing “quality of service” in discussions with the Kennett Fire Company but not doing the same in talks with the Longwood Fire Company.
“I don’t agree that we’re moving the goal posts, and I am not engaging in any conversation about quality of service,” Ratliff said. “I have said many times that there are great providers at both companies.”
Leff summarized the decision by saying that while the decision to use a one-source provider of EMS service to the township may or may not be a perfect solution, “I know that it’s an improvement over what we have,” he said.
Stevens then responded to Leff.
“While all of you have been talking, I have had a running dialogue with various people from Kennett Fire and EMS, and they all agree that what is being presented is not what was discussed -- it was not the way it went down,” he told Leff. “Your recounting of the history that you were not a part of is not accurate, and your interpretation of it, in my view, is inaccurate.
“We’ll know in another year, may be a year and a half, whether your wisdom is well-founded,” Stevens added. “It is what it is, but there are a lot of lives on the line, however, and that’s what disturbs me greatly. What this started out to be was a savings in money, and it turns out that it was not a savings in money. It’s a whole lot of other things.”
Referring to the Kennett Fire Company, Stevens said, “You have a lot of lives who are employed here and live here, and they’re going to be moved out of what they are doing and will have to go find something else. It’s going to have an impact on a whole lot of things, and I don’t think we have a real clear view of the number of dominoes that are going to get bumped over in this process.”
Supervisor proposes formation of regional EMS unit
In a prepared statement, Hoffman called on both fire companies to work with the Regional Fire and EMS Commission in considering the idea of forming a joint regional EMS company that would consolidate ambulance services in a more efficient model, which would be used by both Longwood and Kennett.
Such an agency, she said, “will provide us with the high-quality services we need, while achieving regional cost savings through ‘back office’ efficiencies, and eliminating the duplication of emergency response vehicles which add additional expenses to taxpayers throughout the region. Emergency response vehicles and the need to outfit them properly is very expensive, and the unnecessary duplication of equipment has perhaps led to spending of tax dollars less than efficiently in the past due to our historical choices and set up.
“In these times, when so many people are in pain economically and more aware of the importance of good health and cautious spending of every dollar, we hope our decision, which may be a disappointment to some, will spur the cooperation and community-minded spirit of everyone to create the system we really need, to benefit everyone in our region for years to come.”
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email [email protected].