EMS workers miffed in Oceana County over termination letter

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OCEANA COUNTY, Mich.  —  “It’s a difficult situation for everyone.”

That’s how Oceana County Sheriff Craig Mast sums up the controversy over a public-private partnership that resulted this week in members of the county’s Emergency Medical Services team receiving a termination letter, that would take effect this fall.

The Oceana County Board of Commissioners voted July 19 in favor of the “concept” of entering into a multi-year contract with Life EMS to provide countywide ambulance services, starting October 1, 2018.  But District 1 county commissioner Dean Gustafson tells FOX 17 the contract has not been signed yet.

“The act has not been ratified…there are certain procedural things that would have to be done to notify personnel, if they were to be terminated at a certain time.”

But FOX 17 obtained a copy of a letter purportedly sent by County Administrator Dr. Robert Sobie to county EMS employees this week, saying “your employment with Oceana County will end at midnight on September 30, 2018.

The Oceana County EMS was not thrilled with the termination letter, nor the notion of emergency medical services potentially being regionalized or outsourced. The Service Employee International Union (SEIU) told the Oceana County Press in an article, “We were completely blindsided.” The county board voted to potentially terminate the SEIU contract, one week before it took the Life EMS vote. The contract reportedly was set to expire at year’s end.

The local union launched a Facebook page titled, “Help SEIU save Oceana EMS”, and encouraged people to write to the county commission in support of the current county EMS structure. The SEIU also endorsed candidates who are like-minded on the matter.

Sheriff Mast told FOX 17, “I truly sympathize with the workers, with their situation.”

Gustafson said, “There’s no dissatisfaction with anyone individually. We’re trying to look long-term. Going forward, this would give us a strong position, in terms of managing this important service in our county…we want to look for the best solution.”

Gustafson also told FOX 17 he expects all current Oceana County EMS employees will be afforded the opportunity to interview for positions with Life EMS in the county, if it ends up providing all of the ambulance services. “I hope all would be hired,” he said.

Steve Headland, a full-time paramedic with Oceana County EMS,  tells FOX 17, “I have seen the letters that my co-workers received in the mail (Friday) from Life EMS saying that they’re glad that they’re entering into final negotiations, and will be contacting us in early August for applications and interviews.

“I would like to know why this is being changed. We are millage-funded and we’re under-budget. And we have a contract until the end of the year, and the county is not sticking to that contract. I would like to know why.”



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  • West Michigan Outdoorsman

    This is only one side of the story and has been written to paint a bad light on the County officials. The other side of this story is how the employees plotted against their own director late last year to have him ousted. The Oceana County Commissioners began a fact finding study to see what was best for the citizens of Oceana County (since this is what they were elected for). During this study the employees became threatened by the possibility of a private service taking over. They then began to hurl insults personally and on social media to the County board, Life EMS employees and about Life EMS itself. There was never any personal about the decision that was made to switch from public to private service. It’s a smart business decision by the board. It will save the residents money and it takes liability off the County. Municipalities should not be in the business of healthcare, it should be left to professionals who know the systems and are up to date with the changing healthcare culture. I can understand the frustration for the employees of Oceana EMS; but has anyone thought that their unprofessional conduct during this whole process had some bearing on the matter? Maybe….

    • Farmgirl212

      I will agree this has been an incredibly emotional and turbulent time over the past two months. There are things Oceana EMS employees have said that are uncalled for. Yet, I happen to know the director was “ousted” for good reason–he was refusing to follow through on commitments made to his employees unless the union (SEIU) held his feet to the fire. The county board of directors was in support of his resignation and they informed Oceana EMS employees they would begin the search for a new director. I have no idea if this search was ever officially begun. What I do know, is that the “fact finding study” the commissioners undertook did not appear to be impartial. Dr. Reed, the med control for Oceana County was never contacted regarding the improvement of ambulance services. None of the local fire chiefs were contacted to ask if they could provide insight–input I’m sure they would be happy to provide, as they are not unanimous as to whether this is a good move more the county. I do believe the commissioners sincerely want to improve our services in Oceana. But it seems to me they didn’t do enough research and “fact finding” before Dr. Sobie released his original statement in May. To be frank, I think a lot of this could’ve been avoided if that original statement had included this question, “How can we improve our current ambulance services?” rather than, “How can our current ambulance services be improved by Life EMS?” If you read that second statement, it seems as though the commissioners already knew what they wanted to do. Whether that’s true or not, that’s the way the employees of Oceana EMS understood that statement; their knee-jerk reaction is understandable. Lastly, as to your statement, “Municipalities should not be in the business of healthcare, it should be left to the professionals who know the systems and are up to date with the changing health care system” I completely agree. Then why on earth did the directors not ask our resident health care professionals–including billing agents, etc, who work for Oceana EMS–how they thought things could be improved? If the board was really, truly happy with Oceana EMS performance, which they said they were in January, why wouldn’t you ask for your valued employees input as they are, after all, medical professionals?

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