News and Tribune

March 1, 2013

Clark may end contract with Rural/Metro

Health department claims ambulance service broke rules, underserved county

By MATT KOESTERS
matt.koesters@newsandtribune.com

JEFFERSONVILLE — Disregard for protocols. Ignored dispatch orders. Below-acceptable service levels. 

For those reasons, the Clark County Health Department and Clark County 911 want Rural/Metro Corporation to no longer be the county’s ambulance service provider. 

In a letter presented to the Clark County Commissioners at their meeting Thursday, County Health Officer Dr. Kevin Burke outlined what he called significant violations by Rural/Metro of its contract with the county and the county’s public safety plan. 

Among those violations included the failure of Rural/Metro ambulances at times to stock controlled substances like morphine and Ativan; failure to let Clark County 911 control ambulance dispatch and standby locations at all times; failure to maintain a minimum number of available units within the county; failure to obtain mutual-aid agreements with another county-certified ambulance provider; and failure to file reports on “long response time” runs with Burke. 

Rural/Metro is required to file a report explaining any ambulance run with a response time greater than 12 minutes. There have been hundreds of such runs since Rural/Metro purchased Clark County EMS and took over its contract with Clark County. Burke says that he has not received a single report explaining a long run. 

Burke said representatives of the county health department, county 911 and Rural/Metro met face to face on four separate occasions since the summer, with former Commissioner Les Young in attendance at two of those meetings. 

“In the last year, numerous letters, emails and phone calls have also occurred,” Burke wrote. Burke said that when Rural/Metro would respond to the county’s complaints — which was not always — the ambulance company would promise to attempt to get in compliance with the county’s requirements. It never did. 

Rural/Metro is required to keep a minimum of four ambulances within the county available to respond to emergency calls. At times, despite being instructed not to do so by Clark County 911, Rural/Metro’s Indianapolis-based dispatch would instruct units in Clark County to go on non-emergency transport runs. This would leave the county with below-minimum coverage, Burke explained. 

“Potentially if we had an emergency where we needed more than [three] ambulances, which wouldn’t happen very often — but let’s say there was a school bus accident on [Interstate] 65, you would need more than three ambulances to respond to that situation,” Burke said. “I’m not aware of a situation where someone was denied care where a unit was unavailable. We were just concerned about that possibility when they fell below the minimum and took away a unit to do a nursing home run.”

Burke told the commissioners that while Rural/Metro ambulances were out making non-emergency runs, they would ask other ambulance companies to pick up the slack on the emergency side. 

“So while they’re out making more money, we’ve got New [Chapel] and Yellow [Ambulance] covering them on basic services and emergency services,” Commissioner Rick Stephenson said. 

The commissioners unanimously approved a motion made by Commissioner John Perkins to give Rural/Metro two weeks to respond to the complaints of the health department. The county reserves the right to give Rural/Metro 60 days written notice to terminate its contract. 

If Perkins has his way, that’s exactly what will happen.

“I can’t speak for the other two commissioners, but as far as John Perkins is concerned, the contract with Rural Metro is over with,” Perkins said. “So they can wait the 60 days, they can quit tomorrow, they can wait for the next commissioners’ meeting, but with what the Clark County Health Department has presented tonight to the commissioners, I don’t think we have much choice other than to replace them as the provider in Clark County.”

Perkins said that other ambulance companies are ready and available to fill the void should Rural/Metro lose the contract, pointing specifically to Yellow Ambulance, which currently serves the city of Jeffersonville. 

“About every three or four years, there seems to be some sort of ambulance controversy in Clark County,” Perkins said. “It’s cyclical. It’s come back around again. But we feel confident that we’re going to solve that problem and we know that we have several ambulance services besides Yellow that can step in and fill the void.”

 

EMERGENCY DECLARED

The commissioners unanimously voted to declare an emergency and spend $155,256 out of the county’s cumulative capital fund for road treatments and overtime pay for road workers resulting from snowy and icy weather. 

“I’d like everyone to pray we don’t have anymore bad weather,” Commissioner Jack Coffman said, who added that additional inclement weather could result in an additional expense to the county. 

 

MARYSVILLE COMMUNITY CENTER GRANT

The commissioners authorized River Hills Executive Director Jill Saegesser to pursue an up-to $400,000 grant through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for the renovation of the Marysville Community Center, which was damaged by the March 2, 2012 tornadoes. 

The local match for the grant would be at least 10 percent of the funds requested, and would be paid either by the community center or by March2Recovery, Saegesser said. 

 

METHADONE CLINIC COMPLAINT ADDRESSED

Concerns raised by Patricia Vogt, a Clark County resident whose home is near the Southern Indiana Clinic — also commonly known as the methadone clinic — were addressed by County Attorney Jake Elder. 

Elder told Vogt that he had met with the director of the clinic, and that the owners are open to meeting with the public to address concerns about activity at the clinic. The clinic is also open to forming a citizen board of trustees, which could potentially include a county commissioner.  

Vogt had appeared at a board meeting in January to talk about the clinic’s long operating hours and traffic issues caused by its presence in the neighborhood.