Highland County EMS Citizen Committee Holds First Meeting
The first meeting of the Emergency Medical Services Citizen Committee was held during the Highland County Board of Supervisors Work Session on January 17, 2018. Volunteer members of the committee, Steve Fullerton, Iris Hooke, Paul Klein, and Kristie Siron were present, with member Travis Halterman being unable to attend.
To begin, Commonwealth Attorney Melissa Dowd reported that Senator Creigh Deeds had introduced Senate Bill 680 in to the current Session, which has been referred to the Committee on Local Government. The bill authorizes Highland County to adopt an ordinance, after holding a public hearing, imposing a fee to fund the provision of emergency medical services in the county. A second added paragraph also allows the county to authorize someone else to collect such a fee. In addition, Ms. Dowd said she had spoken with Tim Perkins, who is the acting Technical Assistance Coordinator at the statewide Office of Emergency Medical Services, or OEMS. She reported that the agency would like to collect data themselves in their independent evaluation to provide an assessment of Highland County’s EMS. Though OEMS has not completed an entire county evaluation in this capacity before, they have evaluated critical access hospitals, so Mr. Perkins has a framework of how to move forward. OEMS hopes their study will also be able to offer a little more structure to other communities who could use future assistance.
Moving on, Supervisor David Blanchard thanked the EMS Citizen Committee for volunteering and said that the more eyes on the EMS issues, the better. Members of the committee then brought forth concerns and questions to the Board of Supervisors. Steve Fullerton asked if there was a timeline for decisions. Vice-Chairman Kevin Wagner said they would like to include any changes that can be made this year in to this year’s budget, which has to be ready the first week of April. However, the review process may take longer and move in steps and milestones over an extended period of time.
Paul Klein wanted more direction from the Board. Mr. Wagner responded that he has a few questions the Board would like answered, including: what would a business plan look like for the county’s scale of a rescue squad, what would a proper manning for that type of rescue squad be, and what equipment would be needed in order for the Board to properly budget for the squad?
Mr. Klein and Mr. Fullerton wanted to know if the financial records and data from the rescue squad will be made available to the citizen committee in order to move ahead effectively. They also suggested it may not be necessary to have an active squad member on the committee and, if there was an active squad member, that may be perceived as a conflict of interest. Mr. Klein said that the committee certainly will share their discoveries with the rescue squad. Mr. Wagner responded that he thought having a rescue squad member on the committee would be beneficial. Chairman Harry Sponaugle continued the conversation by saying he wants the committee to look at how the Board can come up with the best rescue squad possible, whether its paid or volunteer or both. After more discussion on these issues, Ms. Dowd said that from a legal perspective, the Board has to make a request to the rescue squad for the opening of their files. In addition, as a citizen committee under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act, their meetings will be public. In conclusion, the Board plans to speak with the rescue squad about obtaining access to past records before the citizen committee will meet again and begin their evaluation and recommendations.
In other business, the Board is still looking for at least three individuals to join the Board of Equalization. The Board also approved a request from the McDowell Volunteer Fire Department asking to borrow $20,000 from the county’s revolving loan fund to help pay for a recently purchased vehicle. The Board will also wait to make a decision on holding a joint public hearing or hearings with the Planning Commission about the Dominion Atlantic Coast Pipeline “lay down” yards in Monterey and McDowell until after the Planning Commission discusses the topic at their meeting on Thursday, January 25th.