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Medic One layoffs still on table as officials struggle toward compromise

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Officials with Lewis County Medic One feel they have crossed at least one hurdle toward stabilizing the agency, but still have a number of challenges left to prevent scheduled layoffs on July 1.

During a meeting of the Medic One Board of Directors May 19, a concern regarding financial support some fire districts are receiving for supplies and collections, while others are not, was put to rest, though a financial commitment from all six districts to sustain the agency remains up in the air.

"We're probably the closest we've been," said Board Chair Dale Nielsen, representing Lewis County Fire District 2, of ongoing discussions to resolve a potential financial shortfall this year of roughly $260,000, according to the most recent estimates.

The districts served by Medic One (District 2, in Toledo, as well as Lewis County Fire District 15, in Winlock, and Cowlitz-Lewis Fire District 20, in Vader and Ryderwood, who own the agency; and Lewis County Fire Districts 1, in Onalaska, 3, in Mossyrock, and 8, in Salkum, who contract for services) have been struggling since October to overcome significant shortfall projections in the 2015 budget, initially attributed to drops in call volume and per-patient revenue, and later expounded when Lewis County Fire District 5, in Napavine, chose to contract with American Medical Response instead of Medic One as of Jan. 1.

While a proposal was approved by the board Feb. 4 to share costs for agency operations among all six districts based on the percentage of paramedic responses within each, the individual boards of commissioners for some districts have since expressed concerns and certain conditions they would like to see addressed before committing to funding.

One concern raised at the last board meeting on April 21 was a discrepancy identified by representatives of District 3, who pointed out Medic One's total budget of $820,825 includes funding for ambulance supplies and collections, among other costs, specific to Districts 2, 15 and 20, while Districts 1, 3 and 8 pay for similar costs out of their own budgets. Medic One Business Manager Dianne Wallace reported May 19 the cost for these services totaled roughly $38,000, and the board agreed the best approach would be to remove them from the overall budget, re-calculate totals for the districts based on their percentages, and add the $38,000 to the payments from Districts 2, 15 and 20.

"That sounds like the most fair and equitable way," said Board Member Terry Williams, representing District 20, of the plan to balance out the costs.

District 3 Chief Doug Fosburg said, with such concerns addressed, his commissioners feel they are in a position to accept the terms for funding Medic One presented by the board, though they had initially rejected the proposal in March.

"I believe that it's going to resolve what we needed to resolve, we hope," he said of the board's May 19 decision, noting the potential remains for negotiations to change as they have during the last few months.

Unresolved were concerns identified by District 8 regarding how the contract districts would hold the member districts accountable, specifically through requiring a contract defining how Districts 2, 15 and 20 would fulfill their financial obligations, as well as creation of a non-voting position on the Board of Directors to represent the interests of contract districts.

"We want the same treatment," said District 8 Commissioner George Kaech, who has been among those stating, since Medic One has begun depending more significantly on its contract districts for finances, such districts should be allowed more direct involvement in agency policy.

But the board remains split on such issues, with Williams stating he would support a non-voting board position, adding he is curious why such a position has not been in place in the past, while Board Member Grant Kistler, representing District 15, said he sees such requests as "the tail wagging the dog" and said the current state of the board and its obligations should remain in place.

"We're not a co-op...we provide service to customers," he said, stating he feels Keach and others have raised "valid points," but believes it would not be a sound business decision to begin holding the owners of the agency to terms dictated by contracted entities. "I'm not going to sign a contract just because you sign a contract. There no animosity or ego or anything else to do with it. It's just common business sense."

The board did not take any action regarding such concerns during the meeting and indicated these issues should be brought before their individual boards of commissioners prior to Medic One's board casting a vote.

With such concerns still unresolved, the possibility remains for Medic One to lay off two medics on July 1, according to a motion passed by the board April 21, with the caveat that layoffs would be avoided if all districts agreed to adequately fund the system by that time. District 8 has said they will not agree to make payments until their terms are addressed, while commissioners for Districts 15 and 20 have yet to honor a first-quarter invoice sent by Medic One, stating they had questions regarding the way their patient revenues were counted toward their outstanding balance, among other concerns.

Williams said he would be polling his commissioners prior to the next Medic One meeting on June 16 to discuss the new changes in the way the member districts would be charged, while Kistler said his board intends to meet soon and is not interested in waiting until the "eleventh hour" to address outstanding issues.

Regarding the motion for potential layoffs, Medic One's employees' union, IAFF Local 4863, submitted a letter to the board that night informing them of a grievance filed May 8 contesting the layoffs as a potential violation of the union's contract. The board met in executive session and said they intend to forward the matter to their legal counsel, with an expectation of offering an official response by May 29.

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