Woodland EMS in limbo

Published 9:01 am Saturday, June 4, 2011

WOODLAND — Woodland EMS will return to volunteer status at the end of the month due to the municipal department operating financially in the red.

However, the change may leave the station with no personnel.

On Thursday, the Woodland Town Board of Commissioners spoke about their decision with representatives from Woodland EMS, with some absent from an ambulance call that came in just as the meeting was called to order.

In the absence of EMS Captain Lisa Collier, her husband, Brandon Collier, and Jackson Rescue Squad Commander Gary Elliott spoke to the town commissioners, who said their decision was solely based on financial numbers.

The Woodland EMS budget, given out at the meeting, shows the department is operating at $60,029.71 in expenditures over revenues year to date.

“What this board is recommending is to put Woodland EMS back to volunteer status as of June 30,” said Mayor Jay Jenkins. “That’s not to say we’re going to close the doors and padlock it, sell the trucks and get out of the business. It means we simply cannot continue paying for service. We’re just not getting the money back.”

Jenkins said the decision was not a personal one.  

“If I had my way we would have 24 hour a day (EMS) service here,” he said. “So it’s not personal and I understand you’re not sitting here because of personal reasons, you’re sitting here because of the people that you serve and I commend you.”

He added, “Our job, as elected officials, is to be good stewards of the money, the taxpayers’ money. That’s our job, nothing else. When we spend $195,000 and we make $135,000, you have to look at it from a business standpoint.”

Collier said the biggest concern among EMS is the reason why the organization was being shut down.

“I know the county has two trucks sitting in Jackson and I’ve already spoken to the (Northampton) EMS Director (Chuck Joyner), I really don’t think they can handle anymore calls than what they already handle,” he said. “We’re taking this truck out from over here and we’re hurting three fire departments (when there is a fire call) because the county truck is not coming to that. On fire scene when you get hurt, you don’t have 20 minutes to wait.”

Collier questioned the Woodland EMS $202,400 budget of which only approximately, he said, $181,000 was spent.

“There’s two sides of that, that’s the outgoing to off set that outgoing, you have to have income,” responded Jenkins. “You’re right, you have $202,000 expense budget, but you also didn’t meet the revenue coming in too.”

Jenkins spoke of the fact Woodland EMS may not be manned due to the fact it is returning to volunteer status.

“The volunteers are fewer and fewer to be found,” he said. “We’re not shutting the doors, we’re not padlocking the building, we’re going back to the exact same status that we were as a volunteer unit. In reality what does that mean, you guys are going to walk. We’re not shutting down rescue. …But if we don’t pay you, you’re not coming.”

Jenkins referred to the budget and noted the deficit.

“We don’t have it; that’s the bottom line,” said Jenkins. “The personal part is happening up here on this board, that’s why I’m a little bit emotional because we’re closing down an operation because we’re not going have volunteers.”

Elliott asked if EMS were to go back to volunteer, if the organization would have to change the incorporation and non-profit status.

“To my knowledge the status of EMS in Woodland has not changed any iota other than having us paying the people to man the building 24 hours,” Jenkins responded. “To go back to volunteer status, the one thing we would have to have is people and that’s what we’re not going to get because there are not volunteers any more.”

Elliott said he believed part of the problem is using the county for billing and there had been “far and few” between revenue coming in.

Collier said they have a list of what the county has billed for, which is about $410,000.

“If we could collect that we would be great,” he said. “As you all know it don’t come in the way we want it to.”

Elliott said he had the same problem as Woodland with county billing collections.

“I’m in the same boat,” he said.

He added they are looking to going to a billing company.

Jenkins said Woodland had previously looked into a billing company.

“The cost and being begged by the county not to do that, we didn’t make the move,” he said.

Others asked about the town of Rich Square being notified by Woodland about the change.

“The Woodland Rescue Squad also covers the town of Rich Square,” one person said.

Jenkins said the agreement with Rich Square had been severed, but EMS still responded to calls.

The mayor added that despite the pending change, the town board is open to other options.

“It’s not to say this board isn’t interested in finding another avenue or looking at different ways to make this a viable thing,” he said. “The only way to do it is to see the money back on the return of what we’re spending.”

“The town budget has to balance,” said Town Commissioner Lloyd Lee Wilson. “It just has to, and if we had surplus money that we could underwrite this operating deficit and that way keep the status quo, that would be wonderful. There is no surplus money.

He continued, “If we promised you that we would keep running this program there would come a day that you wouldn’t get paid, because there is no money. So the only responsible thing to do as a board is to look at that and say how can we balance the budget, as we are required to do by law, and try to find a way to continue EMS services.”

Jenkins also spoke about a proposal going before the Northampton County Board of Commissioners on Monday.

He said he had spoken with County Manager Wayne Jenkins, as instructed by the Woodland Town Commissioners, Northampton EMS possibly locating a satellite EMS station in Woodland to service the eastern part of the county. 

The mayor noted until it is presented on Monday it is just a proposal on the table.

“As you know, as we discussed there was a plan to put one in Milwaukee, that plan as I understand it is on hold because of the lack of funds,” he said. “So the interest of having a satellite station in Woodland is greater because of that.”

Jenkins said he also spoke to the county manager about the desire of the Woodland board to take their EMS service back to volunteer June 30. The county manager also assured there would be county EMS service to the area.