York County Council makes progress on EMS contract

jmarks@lakewyliepilot.comMarch 19, 2013 

— York County Council members say they’re close to agreeing on emergency response standards with the groups that will have to meet them, though not everyone is convinced.

For more than a year, the council and service providers — Piedmont Medical Center as a paid unit along with River Hills/Lake Wylie EMS, Fort Mill Rescue Squad and others on the volunteer side — have been in talks to update the contracts to run emergency services. Council has delayed action multiple times, including early last month.

A workshop was held shortly after the February decision to delay voting on the contracts and instead send the contracts to a committee led by Councilman Joe Cox. Another was set for this week.

Councilman Bruce Henderson also is participating. He said there’s a “slight possibility” this week’s workshop would be the last before a revised proposal appears before Council, but he doubts it.

“I would expect that there would be at least one more,” Henderson said.

Cox, whose district covers 46 percent of the York County geographically and who has been pushing for equal service throughout the county, said it wouldn’t be before the April 8 or even the April 22 council meeting that the contract issue would return to the full group. He doesn’t see more than one more workshop after this week taking place.

“It’s not (deadlocked),” Cox said. “It’s moving.”

Volunteer units have taken issue with several proposed requirements in the past, some even saying they may be forced shut down if certain new rules are put in place.

A main concern has been medical control, or who would be in charge of the physician in place to operate the squads, though parties reached a consensus on that issue. Still, squads are concerned.

“The document is not in the best interests of the county,” said Leo Yakutis, board member with River Hills/Lake Wylie EMS, after the initial workshop. “It is in the best interests of Piedmont Medical Center. It is not in the interest of the taxpayer. It does nothing to help patient welfare.”

A variety of concerns remain for members of the Lake Wylie group, many of them “unfavorable wording” that could be construed differently by future councils, Yakutis said.

However, Yakutis is pleased with the overall aim that began contract discussions — the need to end a dual dispatch system that the county, state and squads agree is unsafe and inefficient.

He also is glad the squads, hospital and council members are sitting at the same table now in negotiations.

But, Yakutis said, factors like how future providers might serve the county, varying standards between existing providers and liability concerns still need to be resolved if the agreement is to serve residents and patients foremost.

“We want this to be done as much as anybody,” he said. “Done for the sake of done is not appropriate.”

Council members participating in the workshops say momentum is pointing in the right direction, mostly because the workshops are bringing all of the involved parties to the same table.

“Progress is being made,” Henderson said. “It gets kind of touchy sometimes, but we’re pressing on as hard as we can. We took a vow to do what’s best for the people, and that’s what the goal is in every district.”

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