Lewis/Cowlitz Fire District 20 has agreed to rescind its letter of intent to withdraw from Lewis County Medic One, but on the condition their concerns regarding Medic One’s financial management be resolved by EMS officials first.
District 20’s Board of Directors met Thursday with Medic One Operations Chief Grant Wiltbank to clarify why District 20, serving Vader and Ryderwood, as well as Lewis County Fire Districts 2, in Toledo, and 15, in Winlock, were being asked to make financial contributions to help sustain the program. All three member districts manage Medic One through an interlocal agreement and each is being asked to contribute around $5,000 immediately, and a possible second payment at the end of the year, to counter expected budget shortfalls.
It was a similar request for funding at the beginning of the year which led Districts 15 and 20 to submit letters of intent to withdraw from Medic One if financial management was not evaluated and improved. District 15 has since approved their payment and rescinded their letter, citing the challenge created by the letter in filling a vacant paramedic position within Medic One. But District 20, though approving their fees as well, has kept their letter in place until their concerns are resolved, stating it remains their sole source leverage in having their voices heard.
During the meeting Thursday, District 20 Commissioner Terry Williams said he was concerned about
issues ranging from mandatory overtime to the professionalism of paramedics, stating he is worried about paying a fee when budget reductions may be possible.
On the issue of mandatory overtime, of which paramedics work eight hours out of 48 during a standard two-day shift, Wiltbank said a paramedic’s hourly rate is calculated lower so that their yearly take-home, including overtime, equals around $50,000.
He said this saves the organization money because, if paramedics were to be paid overtime only for shifts above their regular 48 hours, their hourly rate would be accordingly higher to still achieve the $50,000 per year salary, leading to a higher overtime rate for unexpected shift coverage.
Wiltbank stated the current system of mandatory overtime saves around $100 per day on a single paramedic during unexpected overtime, due to the lower hourly rate.
Williams said he did not see how mandating overtime was saving Medic One money and said he would like to see hard numbers to illustrate what Wiltbank had explained.
Also discussed was the issue of extra payments to paramedics who travel to Morton General Hospital for transportation, with Williams stating he does not feel they should be earning additional money for tasks listed in their job description.
Wiltbank said transports to and from Morton General began only last year and, for paramedics being asked to travel to Morton and then possibly as far as Seattle for transport, an extra payment was warranted as this was not a service Medic One was undertaking when the paramedics were initially hired.
He added, even with the additional payments to paramedics, Medic One is still clearing a profit through Morton General transports, which he previously stated to be around $25,000 per year.
Williams argued he would not expect to be paid more for his job as Winlock’s Police Chief if he had to drive long distances at untimely hours, adding he has done so on a not infrequent basis. Wiltbank replied he did not have an argument against Williams’ point but did contend he felt the extra payments were a fair compensation for paramedics.
Not discussed that night, though brought up by District 20, had been concerns regarding Medic One’s transparency and openness, as well as an incident brought up by Williams in which a paramedic reportedly communicated to a fire district volunteer they did not care if their vehicles were misused or in disrepair as officials could simply buy them a new one.
While this incident was admittedly third hand information, Williams said he was expecting to receive a written statement from parties involved to corroborate the report.
Such unaddressed issues are what District 20 officials say they expect to have resolved prior to rescinding their letter. They said they felt simply rescinding the letter unconditionally would not bring resolution to their concerns and hope Wiltbank and others will take a more direct role in involving District 20 in Medic One’s management.
Both District 20 and Medic One officials have repeatedly said it is their ultimate goal to keep all current member districts involved with Medic One and to continue the program for the benefit if residents in South Lewis County.
As of Sunday, Wiltbank said the terms of District 20’s rescinding of the letter had been satisfactory in Medic One’s efforts to stabilize the program’s future prior to hiring a new paramedic, and he has been directed by Interlocal Board Chair Dale Nielsen to begin the hiring process and expects to fill the position by the middle of August.