BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
LEE COUNTY – A group of a committee members met Monday afternoon to discuss proposals for the county’s ambulance service and were soured with three local proposals.
The committee is led by Lee County Supervisor Gary Folluo and includes supervisor Rick Larkin, Lee County Auditor Denise Fraise, Lee County Sheriff Stacy Weber, and other emergency response volunteers and professionals.
The committee has been working the past six weeks to try to resolve a percolating financial storm with Lee County EMS Ambulance, Inc. the current provider.
Lee County Ambulance ran into a payroll shortage in March that required the county to chip in about $36,000 to help keep the ambulances running. Since that time, the service hasn’t needed extra financial support, but also didn’t sign a new contract with the county.
County supervisors have budgeted $500,000 in the next fiscal year budget beginning July 1 for the service, but it was revealed Monday that Lee County Ambulance requested $950,000 from the county it its proposal to continue services. The proposal also requests a six-month review.
A proposal from American Medical Response Inc., a subsidiary of Dallas-based Global Medical Response, got the best response from committee members. That proposal requests $450,000 per year from the county and a three-year deal.
Lee County physician Dr. Phillip Caropreso said he was initially on the committee advocating for Lee County Ambulance, but said after reading the proposals, including two from Keokuk and Fort Madison Fire Departments, he’s done an about face and supports the GMR proposal.
“I was very unsettled in my talking with (Bill Young) about their service, their shareholders, and the future of their business and what those people might do going forward,” Caropreso said Monday.
“They have so many problems going forward that I think it undermines what they, going forward, will be able to do.”
Larkin said he had the same concerns and the committee and board of supervisors are charged with making the best decision for the county.
“I do have questions about whether or not they can really change things around with the new proposal,” Larkin said. “I know those shareholders and they’re all good people, but I’m not sure it’s best to go with them or not.”
Caropreso also introduced the fear of Lee County Ambulance possibly going bankrupt and asked Folluo if the board of supervisors was prepared to deal with that.
“For me, I would say no, and that is certainly a possibility,” Folluo said. “That word was mentioned a few times.”
The GMR proposal would put a paramedic and EMT in each of three ambulances that would be manned 24/7 in Keokuk, Fort Madison, and Donnellson.
The committee asked Fraise to set up a meeting as soon as Friday morning to have GMR officials on hand for a Q & A with the committee.
Weber expressed concerns about entering into an agreement for three years, but Folluo said in conversations with GMR, reps indicated they weren’t interested in a one-year investment, but would include language in the contract that would give the county a 90-day out.
Larkin said finding the additional $450,000 would be a big ask for supervisors, who could be struggling with the current budget as it is.
Bryor McMillen, who also sits on the committee, said he was very impressed with GMR’s proposal but had some questions as to how that company’s bid can be so much lower than the other proposals. He also suggested setting up a more permanent ambulance oversight committee to help sniff out potential problems going forward.
Caropreso said GMR is the only group he’d like to move forward with at this point.
“Right now, if they answered our questions, this would be the only proposal I would be in favor of,” he said.
Weber said with his budget being the third largest in the county, the extra money needed for other proposals would come in part from his department.
“If we crowd the trough even further, there’s going to be services lost somewhere in the county,” he said. “I’ll be a little selfish here and I don’t want those to come to my department.”
Weber also said substantial consideration should be given to proposals that include keeping or hiring the current staff at Lee County Ambulance.
“These folks have been soldiers through this whole thing. They’ve stood by and come to work and that speaks volumes to me.”
Caropreso called the Keokuk Fire Department proposal “disappointing”.
“I put them at the bottom on the way the proposal was put together. No experience, more money, no equipment…where’s it all coming from? What’s going to be the relationship? It was very disappointing,” he said.
The two city fire departments had to scramble to get something together for the committee to consider. Fire Chief Joey Herren said at previous meetings that the cities were being asked to put something together in 90 days that other people will do in a year.
The fire department proposals required a $960,000 commitment from the county. Caropreso asked what the cities’ contributions would be and Folluo said his indication was the cities’ current contributions to county coffers, nothing additional. The proposal would be a five-year deal.
Both Fort Madison and Keokuk city councils would have to sign off on the proposals.
“I see that as the wild card in their proposal,” Caropreso said. “This has not been acted upon by the city councils. The city could say, ‘Nope, we don’t want to do it.’ – My goodness.”
The current contract for ambulance services runs out on June 30.
Folluo asked all committee members to have questions in to him by Thursday at noon because of the potential for a meeting Friday with GMR, as well as getting the issue in front of Supervisors as soon as possible.
Supervisor chairman Ron Fedler said he would call a special meeting of the board, if necessary, to consider recommendations for the service.