Highland County Supervisors Hold Work Session on Proposed EMS Ordinance

The Highland County Board of Supervisors held a work session January 5th  to discuss a proposed emergency medical services ordinance.  Board Chairman David Blanchard opened the session saying that the proposed ordinance was a draft and it was mailed to volunteer EMS in response to an email from Debbie Trible, a volunteer with the Highland County Rescue Squad.  Trible wrote to County Supervisor Harry Sponaugle, who is a member of the EMS Advisory Committee, outlining a chain of command and a Board of Directors for EMS services. Blanchard said the draft ordinance reflects the proposal in Trible’s email.  Blanchard also said the email looked good and it was a good step forward, then he said he was not sure where the back and forth discussion derailed.   The county has had an EMS policy is effect since October 2019, and Blanchard said the proposed ordinance is that same policy, with only two changes – one captain overseeing EMS, including volunteers, and the development of an advisory board.  Before hearing a statement from EMS volunteers, Blanchard reminded everyone that matters of personnel were not a topic for public discussion.

Highland County Volunteer Rescue Squad President Paul Trible presented the statement.  He said volunteers and paid staff have a good professional relationship in the field, but issues revolve around disagreements outside of that.    Trible said hostility from the current leadership threatens volunteers’ willingness to serve.  He cited internal division with the chief and deputy chief and problems with scheduling, where schedules are changed frequently and volunteers are assigned nights, holidays and weekends.   Trible said no advanced life support personnel are available five nights a week.

During Trible’s statement, Blanchard reminded him about discussing matters of employees.  After Trible had been speaking for about thirty minutes, Blanchard asked him if he could fast forward his statement and then asked if he had anything good to say.  Trible responded that the chief and deputy chief both do a great job, medically, in the field.

Supervisor Harry Sponaugle asked Trible where they got the idea that the Board of Supervisors was coming up with the ordinance and passing it as is.  Sponaugle said it was sent to volunteers to look at and to give the board comments on.   Trible and volunteers said they were told it was going to be voted on at the meeting.

Trible said volunteers are trying to create a system that everyone can be happy with and what the volunteers see is the county trying to take complete control of a volunteer organization. Blanchard said there was a misunderstanding.  He said the county has no claims to and has never wanted to claim the assets of the volunteer rescue squad.

Dr. Asher Brand, EMS Medical Director, said he felt the ordinance was somewhat ill conceived and encouraged the Board of Supervisors not to adopt it in its current form.  He said there will be a meeting with volunteers to see what they propose for organizational structure.  Dr. Brand said the current structure is not well conceived, with three agencies and three sets of leadership.   He said they all have a place moving forward and the need is to get the governance structure and the funding structure right.

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Bonnie Ralston

Bonnie Ralston is the Assistant Station Coordinator at WVLS and a Highland County news reporter. She began volunteering at Allegheny Mountain Radio in the fall of 2005. In 2006 she became an AMR employee and worked in Bath County for eight years as the WCHG Station Coordinator and then as the news reporter there. She began working in radio while in college and has stayed connected to radio, in one way or another, for more than thirty years. She grew up in Staunton, Virginia, while spending a lot of time on her family’s farm in Deerfield, Virginia. She enjoys spending time outside, watching old TV shows and movies and tending to her chickens.

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