The primary drafter of an ambulance ordinance adopted by the Decatur City Council last week does not expect an easy transition, but is confident the end result will be increased ambulance accountability and shorter response times.
"Remember all of this is a work in progress and the transition will necessarily have some hiccups," Assistant City Attorney Chip Alexander said Friday.
The new ordinance takes effect 30 days after publication of the full text of the ordinance. That publication took place Friday, so the effective date of the new ordinance is Sept. 22.
However, city officials must work on a transitional phase that includes organizing the new Ambulance Regulatory Board and getting ready to implement other aspects of the ordinance that include financial penalties.
The ordinance requires First Response Ambulance Service, the city’s only ambulance service, to obtain a $2 million performance bond. This bond is designed to cover the city's expenses if the existing service suddenly failed and an interim ambulance service were needed. The full $2 million is payable to the city if an ambulance service voluntarily discontinues service before its five-year permit to operate expires, or if the city revokes its certificate for violation of the ordinance.
First Response officials said Monday, after the ordinance passed, that a bonding agent will not issue their firm a $2 million bond. They have not responded to requests for comment since Monday.
"Our concern is the protection of the city if they fail to operate, and for that reason I hope they will be able to secure the bond," Alexander said. "I believe that they will be able to, given the fact that our only desire in requiring the bond is that they stay operating during the term of their CPNC."
The Certificate of Public Necessity and Convenience is the permit authorizing First Response to operate in Decatur. Under the new ordinance, the certificate lasts for five years. First Response has been the only ambulance service in the city with a certificate since 2014.
"The management of (First Response) has voiced their desire to be in compliance and continue operation and it is our sincere hope that they are able to do so," Alexander said. "Pursuant to the ordinance the bond would be required on the effective date of the new ordinance. We anticipate that they will have it on that date. ... Operating without the bond would be a violation that would have to be dealt with by the discipline process through the EMS coordinator and the (Ambulance Regulatory Board)."
The Emergency Medical Services Committee, a creature of the old ambulance ordinance, held what was likely its final meeting Tuesday. This seven-person committee was disbanded under the new ordinance because it didn’t have the power to enforce response time requirements and the board, which was required to include several health professionals, often had a difficult time getting a quorum for its quarterly meetings.
The committee included representatives of Decatur Morgan Hospital and Morgan County 911. Those organizations will not have representatives on the new Ambulance Regulatory Board.
Fire Chief Tony Grande will serve as the Ambulance Regulatory Board chairman. Police Chief Nate Allen and Morgan County Emergency Management Agency Director Eddie Hicks will be on the board. Mayor Tab Bowling and the City Council will each have an appointment. The two appointees will serve four-year terms.
The new ordinance requires that appointees have a background related to emergency services. They may not be a current or former employee or owner of a city ambulance provider, or of a company or individual seeking to become a provider.
Grande and Allen will conduct any investigations required by the board.
Bowling’s last appointment to the EMS Committee was member Lilly Pike. The mayor said Pike also would be a good candidate for his appointment on the Ambulance Regulatory Board. A former Ascend Performance Products employee, Pike recently moved to HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology.
“We need her industrial knowledge about safety,” Bowling said. “And we need someone representing our industries.”
Council President Paige Bibbee said she plans to discuss the council appointment at Monday’s 5 p.m. work session.
“I don’t want someone who works for the current provider,” Bibbee said. “But I would like to find someone who has worked on another ambulance service and has experience.”
The ordinance calls for the Ambulance Regulatory Board to meet on the second Tuesday of each month at 2 p.m., and Alexander said its first formal meeting — probably Oct. 15 — will be organizational.
"I hope informal meetings will take place before the organizational meeting to discuss policies and procedures so at the organizational meeting when they can actually vote they will have discussed — in public meetings — the nuts and bolts of how the process will work," Alexander said.
He said First Response's compliance will be monitored during the transitional period.
"The response times will continue to be monitored as they have been," Alexander said. "The EMS Committee is still operating until the effective date of the new ordinance. Of course, they can’t really enforce it and have never been able to. (Morgan County) 911 keeps up with the times." He said Decatur Fire & Rescue "will be keeping an eye on things."
The new EMS coordinator, who has wide-ranging oversight of the ambulance service under the new ordinance, must be an employee of Decatur Fire & Rescue, a paramedic in good standing, have experience in the field and live in the city. The job will be part of the firefighter’s responsibilities and will not include additional pay, Grande said.
That person will be in charge of tracking ambulance service response times and making sure the ambulance service meets the ordinance's requirement that ambulances reach the scene within eight minutes on at least 90% of its in-city calls. He or she has the power to impose penalties and points for violations of the ordinance requirements.
Penalties can be appealed to the Ambulance Regulatory Board and the City Council. Two consecutive quarters in violation of the response-time requirement could result in revocation of the ambulance service's permit to operate in the city.
During Tuesday’s EMS Committee meeting, David Childers, director of operations for First Response, said his company’s average response since 2012, when it started operating in Decatur, is 89.4%.
Grande said Battalion Chief Janis Johnson, the current EMS coordinator, is on medical leave. She would remain EMS coordinator if she returns, but Grande said she has submitted her retirement papers and he doesn’t know who will replace her.
“We will appoint an interim coordinator in her absence until she retires,” Grande said. “We will have several promotions soon, and one of those people may become the EMS coordinator.”