This Monday, August 3rd, the City Council is being asked to approve the Outsourcing of Emergency Medical Services - ambulance services. The City Manager is recommending that we switch our in-house EMS to Gateway Ambulance, a private out-of-state provider that currently does NOT provide any first-response 911 Emergency Medical Services to ANYONE in St. Louis.
I was first made aware of a major public safety policy vote when I opened my agenda packet late Thursday night. That was at the same time the packet had been released to the public and by that time the article in the in the Post-Dispatch had been published. On such an important issue, I would have expected the information at least be included in the draft agenda published earlier, or a courtesy “heads up” but neither happened. This vote is taking place at a time when many people are on vacation, and the 4 days notice precludes getting out the information to the many residents who will be affected, as well limiting the amount of public discussion and input. This is such an important change to our public safety policy it should be carefully and completely considered over a reasonable amount of time with public input. But, unfortunately and once again, that is not how this is being handled. How will this change affect you? When you currently call for an ambulance, your call is responded to by at least two University City Firefighter Paramedics. If both of our ambulances are in use, your call may be responded to by ambulances from surrounding cities that share Mutual Aid agreements with University City. If University City outsources our Emergency Medical Services those Mutual Aid relationships would be “significantly” impacted. Under the proposed outsourcing plan, if the two Gateway ambulances are in use, it is likely you and your family will wait for another Gateway ambulance to come from another part of the St. Louis area… but from where and how long will this take? And what if we need more than one additional ambulance? The organization that represents all mutual aid agencies with whom University City has agreements assures me that the EMS mutual aid agreements will be null and void the instant University City has Gateway run its EMS calls. That could be catastrophic; In a life and death situation, every second counts.
The City Manager tells us there will be no reduction in the quality of services as a result of this proposed change, but is that really the case? Right now, two firefighter paramedics, both of who are fully qualified to begin emergency medical treatment, staff each University City ambulance. Under the proposed outsourcing contract there will be only one paramedic and one technician in each Gateway ambulance. So, on a Gateway ambulance only one of the two emergency medical team can administer drugs, start an IV, or insert a breathing tube into the trachea for mechanical ventilation. We currently have two (firefighter) paramedics on each U City ambulance and that will be reduced to one paramedic with Gateway. Isn’t that a reduction in the quality of our emergency ambulance service?
Several years ago, five municipalities, Frontenac, Olivette, Hazelwood, Kirkwood and Florissant Valley Fire Protection District tried outsourcing and reversed their decisions bringing EMS back inside their municipal operations. When queried by our Fire Chief Adam Long, Frontenac’s Fire Chief responded, “Frontenac, out sourced and took it back. Service s—ked.” Similarly Hazelwood’s Fire Chief wrote to Chief Long that Hazelwood Fire Department outsourced for about 10 years when they started their own service, which resulted in “more control, better and consistent response times and awesome public relations.” Over that period of time no other agencies have outsourced EMS.
Last September Council had a Study Session on EMS Outsourcing. Councilmember Crow and I asked many questions. Most of the answers to those questions were not provided during the study session or the subsequent meetings, some questions went unanswered for over 8 months and not all questions were answered. It is important to note that citizens are not permitted to speak at Study Sessions. As one long-time resident recently wrote, “Citizens should have a right to decide which services are a priority for the city to keep/fund.” Yet, there has been no public engagement on this proposed major public safety public policy change and with so much lacking information,we are set to vote on Monday night for a FIVE-year contract to outsource our EMS. This seems to be the same lack of public engagement and open information that was used by the administration and majority of the Council for the April bond issues. There are more questions generated by this proposal and contract then there are answers. Once again, the process - especially the exclusion of public input - used by this administration to consider such a radical and controversial change to our public safety policy is questionable.
Judging by the phone calls and emails I have received since residents read about the proposed outsourcing EMS in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, it is hard to believe that the majority of University City residents want their emergency ambulance services outsourced, especially to a company that does not provide primary 911 EMS services to anyone in the St. Louis area. Residents will not get to vote on this, but you do have the opportunity to let us know how you feel about it. You have a very small window. If you are silent, the majority of Council will view this as agreement with their preference to outsource EMS, and I will be forced to concede their point.
But if you disagree with this proposed change in public safety policy and service, you must speak out to defend your family’s safety - either in writing or a public statement to the Council. If you do send a written statement to me, it will read it into the record. It is most powerful, however, if you will come to make a public statement no matter how short. Please share this email with your friends and neighbors. Please come to the Council meeting this Monday night; the meeting is held in City Hall, 5th Floor at 6:30 PM. If there ever was a time to speak up, this is it and the choice is yours.