Pinellas County lawmakers want county commissioners to hire an independent firm to analyze an created by Lt. Scott Sanford and Lealman Fire District Capt. Jim Millican.
Pinellas County's legislative delegation made the recommendation during a unanimous vote at a special public hearing and delegation meeting about EMS issues Wednesday.
The county has been struggling to figure out how to pay for EMS transport services using fewer tax dollars. Two cost-cutting proposals have been hotly debated at community forums around the county. One proposal was commissioned by Pinellas County, and the other is from firefighters Sanford and Millican.
"The outcome was very good for both parties; it gave everything a chance to cool down a bit because there have been a lot of heated discussions," Nehr said. "The next time we discuss this, we'll have more information to make a wise decision based on the health and safety of the citizens."
Sanford added, "I have faith that we'll all come together and work for the better good of the citizens."
The lawmakers' motion recommends that the county create a committee whose sole purpose would be to select an independent company to provide a cost analysis of three EMS transport system plans for the county:
- The current EMS transport system used by Pinellas County
- The Sanford-Millican EMS transport proposal
- The EMS transport proposal from Integral Performance Systems, commissioned by the county at a cost of $130,000.
Lawmakers set a deadline of Jan. 1 for the committee to select the company to provide the cost analyses. The analyses would then be completed by July. Money to pay for the analyses would come from the county's EMS fund.
Lawmakers also voted to wait until July 1 to take any legal action concerning the county's EMS system. Latvala was careful not to overstep boundaries.
"I don't think we are in a position to dictate to the county commission what they do," Latvala said. "I think you guys are taking a big step here with the fact that we have pretty much unanimous agreement for the first time."
Current Cost Estimates Are Conflicting
During Wednesday's special meeting, some lawmakers said that if they were to vote about the issue today, they would support the Sanford-Millican EMS transport proposal. Lawmakers also expressed their concerns over the difference in projected costs for the Sanford-Millican and IPS proposals.
"My main concern is the safety and welfare of the citizens of Pinellas County," Nehr said. "I'm concerned about the $45 million difference that I keep hearing about in these two plans. I don't fully understand it, even though I've heard a lot of the explanations from both sides."
Latvala echoed Nehr's comments.
"One of the biggest points of contention here is the difference in what Sanford-Millican say that fire-based transport would cost and what the county says fire-based transport would cost," Latvala said. "It's a huge difference. I've always felt like it's too big a difference; somebody's got to be way off."
Citizens, firefighters and government leaders also voiced their opinions about EMS transport during the public hearing.
"It was a great outcome. The public, the community, the citizens all shared their point of view, and the delegation heard it loud and clear," Sanford said.
About the Three Plans
In the current EMS transport system used by Pinellas County, firefighter-paramedics respond first to the scene of an emergency. They collect information about what happened and provide initial medical treatment to stabilize patients. Then an ambulance crew arrives and collects information about what happened. The ambulance crew transports patients to the hospital.
The Sanford-Millican EMS transport proposal aims to prevent redundancy. Under the Sanford-Millican plan, firefighter-paramedics would provide initial treatment and also have the power to transport patients to the hospital, without requiring an ambulance crew to be dispatched. The Sanford-Millican plan would also keep patients from having to go over their personal information twice with emergency personnel. This plan has won the approval of Palm Harbor Fire Rescue Chief James Angle.
The EMS transport proposal from Integral Performance Systems was commissioned by the county. Under this plan, firefighter-paramedics would still be the first to respond to an emergency, and an ambulance crew would still be required to transport patients to the hospital. The difference in this plan is the way transport would be funded — the county commissioned this report to cut emergency response costs without sacrificing response time when transporting patients to the hospital.