Officials with Lewis County Medic One are examining the ethics behind providing backup ambulance services to Lewis County Fire District 5 after District 5 sought private coverage last year.
Based in Napavine, District 5 had been serviced by Medic One until the beginning of this year, at which time they began receiving contracted services from American Medical Response (AMR), leaving Medic One with a revenue deficit of around $200,000.
When Medic One's Board of Directors met for their regular meeting on Jan. 20, Operations Chief Grant Wiltbank informed the board of a request from District 5 asking if Medic One would approve being placed on a list of agencies able to respond within Napavine if their ambulance was out of the area.
But Wiltbank told the board he felt adding Medic One to the list of backup agencies would be "rewarding" an entity that has placed a financial burden on the districts remaining within Medic One.
"If District 5 wanted to go with a private carrier, so be it," he stated, adding, as an agency with employees in a union, he felt Medic One should partner with other union-affiliated agencies first. "They've chosen, for financial gain, basically, in my opinion, to do their own thing. I don't think that the interlocal [Medic One] should be saying, 'Yeah, that's fine. Go ahead and put us on your run card. We'll back you up, and you back us up.'"
From the perspective of someone personally affiliated with District 5, Board Member Grant Kistler, who has served as a chaplain at District 5, as well as Lewis County Fire District 15, in Winlock, where Kistler serves as a commissioner, said he felt it was inappropriate to approach the issue with an attitude that said, "Well, you made your bed, now sleep in it."
"Is that what firefighters' and emergency workers' attitudes are?" he said, noting District 5's decision to go with AMR had been heavily influenced by a decision from Medic One last October to cancel their contract with District 5 in favor of negotiating different terms. "I think this needs to be looked at and talked about and decided by the interlocal how best to address this, and have some discourse on this."
Members of the board said they were also concerned about what the proposal would mean for local ambulance service, stating they would not want to send their ambulance out of the area and leave their own residents without coverage.
District 15 Assistant Chief Kevin Anderson said District 5 has already begun, of their own initiative, responding to local calls when Medic One units are not available.
"The first week they were in service, I had to use them on a District 15 call," said Anderson, stating he would assume any agreement for backup coverage would be mutual. "It has the potential to go both ways, so I would recommend treading lightly because I don't want that resource to go to waste."
Business Manager Diane Wallace added, on the issue of providing service based on current relations with District 5, Medic One needs to keep in mind their obligations to serve those in medical emergencies.
"I know this is a hard subject because it's an emotional issue," she said, "but it's also an ethical issue, and we need to think about the ethics of not responding to someone who needs help."
At the end of discussions, the board decided to table the issue in favor of gathering more information, including what would be the appropriate service fee for District 5, as well as whether or not the agreement would be approved by Dr. Patrick O'Neal, director of Lewis County's medical response program.