Fort Mill Times

Volunteer groups being heard

Volunteer emergency responders had their say in front of county leaders last week. Now begins the waiting to see the impact of those words.

On May 21, a York County subcommittee met with volunteers to discuss the ongoing issue of service contracts. For more than a year the county has been working through an agreement with paid service Piedmont Medical Center and volunteers like River Hills/Lake Wylie EMS and Fort Mill Rescue. The issue arose with a state mandate to end dual dispatch – sending two ambulances to the same incident.

The committee met behind closed doors with Piedmont in April. Last week brought the volunteers’ turn. One more meeting is expected with all parties before an expected “up or down” vote, said committee member and Councilman Bruce Henderson.

Volunteers have argued throughout that certain terms would be detrimental to continued operation, or even insurmountable.

Even the morning of the meeting Leo Yakutis, vice president of River Hills/Lake Wylie EMS, called the most recent proposal a “confusing mess.” Concerns were that Piedmont only had to meet most goals while volunteers needed to meet all of them, he said, and that Piedmont could locate all its ambulances and that legal standards for all groups weren’t the same.

“Ambulances can’t be added unless Piedmont says so, response times can’t improve unless Piedmont says so and we’re not held to the same standard that Piedmont is,” Yakutis said the morning of meeting day.

But there is some feeling that concerns may be addressed. Brian Murphy, board member with Fort Mill Rescue, left the meeting optimistic that volunteer concerns have been or will be considered.

“I’m hopeful that they’ll be able to work through those concerns and that they’ll be able to come up with a good final product,” Murphy said.

Throughout public debate at County Council meetings and elsewhere on the issue, several Council members have stated a continued need for volunteer groups and desire not to harm them. Murphy wants decision-makers and the public to know the issues are “not only concerns for our organization but concerns for the community,” he said.

“It was a good meeting,” Murphy said. “The Council members seemed interested in a solution that would be helpful for everyone involved.”

Henderson said he’s sympathetic to the issues brought up by volunteers. Already some movement has come throughout the process, notably when a plan to have Piedmont oversee medical control for all agencies was scrapped. Volunteers say more work is needed.

“They had some excellent ideas,” Henderson said. “Of course it’s things I’ve wanted all along.”

Henderson said many of the volunteer rescue units have greatly reduced or ceased operation already, but he said the county can’t do without remaining groups like those in Lake Wylie and Fort Mill. He hopes to convince as many Council members as possible to reach a solution that accounts for continued volunteer service.

“The strongest have survived, but they’re having to fight to keep going, and they need to be here,” Henderson said.

Other committee issues like tax fund spending, along with budgeting and other Council tasks, are taking enough attention to where there isn’t a date for the final emergency response meeting. Options are to approve what’s in place with the latest proposal, revert to some earlier agreed-upon version or to make changes in the final weeks.

Henderson said he’s hoping for an agreement that doesn’t unduly favor Piedmont or the squads, but first accounts for the citizens of York County.

“The county is in control here,” he said.