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Mono paramedics under the knife

February 22, 2013

 

‘Cadillac’ program needs serious trimming, supes say

With Mono County gasping for financial relief, the Board of Supervisors this past week took aim at what one supervisor called the county’s “Cadillac” paramedic program.

The board on Tuesday, Feb. 19, acted to trim costs of the $5 million program—the second most expensive program for the county.

“The program needs cost cutting,” said Supervisor Fred Stump, “It needs to save money.”

The supervisors’ action was the latest move in an ongoing tug of war between the paramedics and the county.

Ambulance services pay for about half the cost of the program, Stump said, leaving the county to the other half, roughly $2-$2.9 million.

Last month, the Union Local Mono County Paramedic Rescue Association voted to not accept the so-called “last, best, and final” offer, which resulted in an impasse.

“We cried like squashed kitties,” said the association’s president, Rick Mitchell. “But we’re looking forward to negotiating a new [memorandum of understanding] that’s going to be a lot better than the imposed working conditions we have now.”

Their objections, according to Mitchell, were largely due to changes in the job description.

Mitchell illustrated the union’s concern with an incident at Boulder Lodge in June Lake.

Mitchell said he was first on scene, as it is often the case for ambulances to respond first in most of the county. He said he is also certified in firefighting, so he donned fireproof gear, stepped into the laundry room, and extinguished the fire.     

For that, Mitchell said to the supervisors, he could have been fired.

In the job description of the county’s last offer, county counsel Marshall Rudolph said the county only authorized “paramedics with firefighting skills and training to voluntarily assist local fire departments with firefighting duties at the exterior of a fire scene.”

However, Rudolph said the paramedics with firefighting certifications would not be allowed to venture inside burning buildings, in part out of “concern for the safety of the paramedics” and their medical responsibilities on scene.

 “This board is very interested in participating with [the Paramedic Rescue Association],” said Stump. “Obviously there are fiscal limitations,” he said, but he added that “there are kernels of truth” in Mitchell’s comments about the Paramedic Rescue Association not being consulted in the county’s report.

Stump, who was Fire Chief of the Long Valley Fire Department from 2000 to 2012, described Mono County’s paramedic program as a “Cadillac program,” compared to other similar public programs.

There are always two paramedics on duty, Stump said, and since it is public, the “cohesiveness on a program level allows you to do different things than if it were fractured by, say, privatizing the one ambulance in Walker.”

“The county seldom gets praised for having this program,” Stump said, explaining that there is no state mandate to have a public paramedic program.

He also said he believes it supports Mono County’s strong visitor-based economy by offering “reasonable, timely, and high caliber care if they have medical emergencies while they’re visiting.”

“Costs have escalated over the last several years,” Stump said, adding he does not want the fiscal realities of the program to force service reductions. He also said he would like to see services expanded to the Benton and Chalfant areas.

Stump suggested the program administrators need to “sharpen up their documentation, in terms of all the public contacts they have that are of benefit,” so the county knows what it gets for its money.

The supervisors agreed to hold a workshop with the association, which, Mitchell said, “is going to allow us to speak directly with the county and offer them suggestions that will make the program more sustainable in the future as well as offer better services.

“This is not simply a labor management issue,” Mitchell said. “These paramedics are taxpayers here, too.”

The supervisors conceded they liked the idea of a workshop.

“It’s my goal, within all the budgetary restrictions,” Stump said, “to at least engage in the conversations, listen to the people attentively, and treat them seriously.”

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