Sat, Sep 30, 2023
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Paramedics and member districts calling for overhaul of Medic One

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Both the employees and supporting districts of Lewis County Medic One say there must be a significant change in the agency's management in light of significant deficit projections and frustration with current leadership.

Both Operations Chief Grant Wiltbank and the Board of Directors governing Medic One have come under fire for their responses to efforts by Lewis County Fire District 5, based in Napvine, to look elsewhere for ambulance services.

Medic One currently operates based on an interlocal agreement between fire districts in Toledo, Winlock, Vader and Ryderwood, who own the agency, and provides contracted services to fire districts in Napavine, Salkum, Onalaska and Mossyrock.

District 5 had begin speaking with American Medical Response (AMR), who services fire districts elsewhere in the area, after Medic One stated their intentions to increase rates next year to $630 per call for contract districts. Such an increase would have been a significant change for District 5, who is currently paid $100 per call by Medic One while Medic One is allowed to retain proceeds collected from patients.

During an Oct. 21 meeting of the Medic One Interlocal Board, Wiltbank said this current arrangement was becoming unsustainable as it is expected to result in a net loss of $42,000 to Medic One for this year. The Interlocal Board then voted to cancel their contract with District 5 on the grounds they would not be able to afford to continue operating under current terms, and proposed submitting a new contract to District 5 stipulating $630 per call.

However, during the Nov. 13 meeting of District 5's Board of Commissioners, they unanimously opted to ask AMR for an official contract proposal, stating they feel Wiltbank has been uncouth in the way he has attempted to convince District 5 of the need to support Medic One, while they argue the interlocal board did not give legitimate cause to cancel the contract according to the way it was written.

"The credibility of the Interlocal, to me, has been extremely tarnished," said District 5 Commissioner Kevin Van Egdom, "partly because of Grant [Wiltbank] and partly because of the way of the withdrawal of the contract. Really, in my mind, there is no credibility."

Van Egdom had been speaking during a meeting held Saturday at District 5 headquarters between representatives from the seven fire districts serviced by Medic One, who were there to learn what could be done to keep District 5 involved as well as address ongoing concerns about the agency. It was argued by multiple officials at the meeting that without District 5 Medic One would likely be unable to sustain its current levels of service, while multiple calls were made for dramatic reforms in how the agency operates, including the dismissal of Wiltbank.

One such reform included creating a Board of Directors made of representatives from all the districts serviced by Medic One, not simply the three within the interlocal. Representatives from contract districts said this would address their concerns that rates are being increased to account for overall shortfalls within Medic One, and not simply deficits in their areas.

Another concern raised by officials was the need to balance the 2015 budget, which state policy requires to be passed by the end of this month. Preliminary proposals have included a projected shortfall of around $95,000, according to current revenue sources, with District 5 representatives stating they may reconsider taking part in Medic One if a balanced budget can be presented.

Such changes, both to budget and policy, would need to be approved by the Medic One Interlocal Board, which was scheduled to meet on Tuesday at 7 p.m., during which time the board is expected to have addressed concerns raised during Saturday's meeting.

Also expected to be discussed by the board is a letter from Medic One's employees' union, represented by IAFF Local 4863, in which they describe a unanimous vote of no confidence in Wiltbank cast last month.

In the letter, dated Oct. 28 and made public during the meetings of local fire commissioners on Thursday, the paramedics stated they feel Wiltbank has been a poor communicator and has not done enough to foster cooperation between the districts served by Medic One, citing the recent interactions that have led to District 5 pursuing the services of AMR.

"We have been able to provide this level of service because our districts have chosen to work together and we cannot function with one removed," stated the letter, which acknowledged Wiltbank's efforts to advocate for a strong EMS system in South Lewis County, but stated Medic One is in need of "leadership that can look for alternative funding resources, Safer grants and other federal funding, and someone that will communicate effectively with all members of our service area."

When asked Thursday for his reaction to the union's letter, Wiltbank said he felt disappointed with how the paramedics were characterizing the agency's current challenges, stating he felt they had not been able to offer specific examples of their concerns and said a detailed review of his performance would paint a very different picture.

"I disagree with their interpretation and position," he said, stating, in regard to his levels of communication, the nature of his job requires him to routinely interact with fellow district leaders and keep them informed. "Everything we've done in the interlocal I've strived to make a matter of consensus."

He added, in regard to recent interactions with District 5, his statements about the management of their district and the need for efforts such as an EMS levy proposal were simply frank discussions about what it will take to continue funding Medic One, and he does not believe he "fostered discontent" as the union's letter had described.

Also critical of the union has been Commissioner Randy Pennington of Lewis County Fire District 15, in Winlock, who told his board on Thursday he felt the letter was unfairly scapegoating Wiltbank for District 5's potential departure.

"There has never been an issue officially raised by the bargaining unit until District 5 threatened to pull out," stated Pennington, adding he felt, if such systemic concerns exist within the agency, it would have been more appropriate of the union to bring them up long beforehand rather than at this particular time.

While Cowlitz-Lewis Fire District 20, in Vader and Ryderwood, also discussed the letter at their meeting on Thursday, they said they expect to hear from fellow officials during Tuesday's board meeting before choosing a course of action, while Lewis County Fire District 2, based in Toledo, said they had not broached the matter during their meeting on Thursday.

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