A Request for Information (RFP to conduct a study of county EMS services) posted by the County last week, which included the description, “Review and determine if privatization of emergency medical services is a reasonable consideration for the county” has sent the Emergency Medical Service community in Northampton into a state of turmoil. During Tuesday’s Board of Supervisor’s regular meeting, EMS staff and volunteers from all over the county voiced shock, anger and dismay that the board would undertake a study without their knowledge. With the hospital set to move to Accomack next fall/winter, the Northampton EMS staff, probably one of most seasoned and best trained in the state, will become the first line of health services for citizens of the Northampton County.
EMS director Holleye Carpenter directed her wrath toward the board during public comments, “Why would someone request a study, without the knowledge of the department that is being studied, unless someone has the information they need and the results were already pre-orchestrated? The problem is not with the EMS study except for the way it came about. Funny there was no mention in either of the previous volunteer meetings. No mention at the work session or the fire and rescue meetings held on Monday and Tuesday nights. This happened conveniently while I am out of town at an EMS conference. All this is an example of the county’s failure to communicate. The problem with the RFP is the word privatization, where it states whether privatization is feasible. Now (with the hospital gone) you are looking at dismantling the last line of healthcare in this community just to save a dollar today. We support the study, but just not how it came about, in a sneaky, underhanded way. Many are seeking employment elsewhere in case they are unemployed. You’ve done Accomack County quite a favor. The situation you have created is quite saddening. The Ad Hoc committee has done due diligence, words mentioned by Supervisor LeMond in the Sunday email. Dismantling your EMS and sending it to Accomack with the hospital is the worst decision you can make.”
Chairman of the EMS Ad Hoc committee, Patrick Coady, voiced similar displeasure, “In addition to the extensive rezoning that we have before us tonight that is claimed to be a repeal, which again is being done ahead of the overdue comprehensive plan, we have this purported EMS effectiveness study. By the way, if clustered development was so desired, why was planned unit development deleted from our so-called return to 2009 zoning? The Ad Hoc group that met 33 months ago, and in no time in the 33 months did the Board of Supervisors suggest or request any study by an outside group. Now on March 30th this honorable board issued an RFP. Yesterday, I received from one of my fellow committee members, an email exchange that was troubling. What is the purpose of the timing of this RFP? As these are honorable men, it couldn’t be that they were seeking that Accomack receive two qualified applications for each of its 9 new positions, thereby making outsourcing an immediate and default situation. As these are all honorable men, I have to assume that it was a miscommunication on issuing the RFP. However, the email claiming the misconception was sent on Sunday three days after the supervisors received their packets of responses to said RFP is troubling. Then a very disturbing rumor reached my ears. Being a rumor I’d like to discount it fully, but recent documents tend to lend credence to it. This rumor is already on top of one of our honorable supervisors already being in hot water over improper contacts on a real estate matter, where the applicant was coming before the board. The rumor had four parts. First, that three of our honorable supervisors met in a private home to discuss county business, a serious FOIA violation. Second, also present was a company that provides private staffing of EMS units. Third, one of our honorable members has a building conflict of interest with this company and forth, that parties were ready to execute a pre-determined contract for this until they were informed this was way out of line of proper services acquisition. Therefore, at the direction of the honorable chair and vice-chair, on March 30th, the RFP was issued with only a one week return window. If I had received an RFP with a one week return I would ignore it, as it was clear it was pro-forma and a preferred vendor was already chosen. Why do I give credence to the rumor? A simple review reveals the following: One RFP consists only of a draft contract ready to be signed. It makes one wonder if there is an already signed copy just awaiting tonight’s action.”
After being thoroughly dressed down by the public, a visibly shaken board attempted to quash rumors, and spin the RFP more in their direction. Vice Chairman LeMond commented, “I’m the one that sent the email on Sunday, I don’t appreciate being called a liar. The study is to see with outside eyes. This study is not to take your jobs. This study is to see with outside eyes do we really need extra people? That’s what it is. It’s not to replace you all.” While Supervisor LeMond lamented that including the language ‘privatization’ in the RFP was unfortunate, several in attendance wondered if he felt it was unfortunate because said language was included, or whether it was due to the fact that the cat was now out of the bag.
Chairman Murray followed, “This is intended to be a staffing study. I personally don’t care…my obligation is to have a certified person in an ambulance pick up somebody within the proper time, it could be a volunteer, it could be a paid person in the county, it could be somebody from Peoria, Illinois, I really don’t care. The problem is a staffing problem.”
Despite these assurances from the board, members of the EMS community remain skeptical. Sources have told the Cape Charles Mirror that while 19 or so EMS technicians have already left, many more are currently weighing their options up north, and possibly across the bay. It was also noted that privatization of EMS was never taken off the table as a possible solution to the ‘staffing’ problem.