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EMS proposal totals $15.6 million

By Rose Laudicina
Staff Writer

Members of the Orange County Emergency Services Workgroup say they are pleased with recommendations to improve the county’s EMS department, which include $15.6 million in spending over a 10-year period, presented to the Orange County Board of Commissioners at their Aug. 30 work session.

Steve Allen, a consultant from Solutions for Local Government Inc., who was hired to help develop the multi-year strategic plan, presented the Draft Comprehensive Assessment of Emergency Medical Services and 911/Communications Center Operations Study to the board.

While the board’s reaction to the recommendations was overall favorable, many of the commissioners were taken aback at the estimated price tag that accompanied the study. Recommendations call for adding more ambulances to the fleet, more paramedics and call-center staff and constructing more EMS facilities.

“I think cost is always a concern for folks that have to watch the public dollars … but communication and public safety is a core service the community expects to have, and they have to look at it like that,” said Frank Montes de Oca, director of Emergency Services in Orange County.

Although the cost may seem high, Commissioner Earl McKee, who helps chair the Emergency Services Workgroup (ESW) with fellow Commissioner Valerie Foushee, said it is important to remember not everything has to be implemented at once, as it truly is a comprehensive long-term plan.

“I think that a study that carries with it as much cost as this study potentially carries will definitely have an impact on how anyone would react,” McKee said.

“But this is not a study that proposes doing everything at one time, nor does it propose that everything in the study be done. It can be viewed as a working document to serve as a guide to how we get better EMS delivery in the county,” he added.

The workgroup was formed to allow major stakeholders such as fire and police chiefs, as well as two Orange County residents, to have input on the improvements and changes that are made to the county’s emergency services. Allen was hired to organize data and formulate the workgroup’s discussions into a plan.

“The name of the game is service to the citizens, and this document would help us and serve as a guide to quicker service delivery and more effect service delivery of EMS for the citizens,” McKee said.

Although the county has been working to improve EMS response times, Allen told the board there were too few ambulances, outdated 911 call-center systems and limited staff to address the problems effectively.

“I was pleased to see the recognition [from the board] that these are the issues we need to move forward on,” said Michael Talbert, assistant county manager.

McKee said some pieces of the report could be implemented rapidly and at a low cost, while other items, such as building new EMS facilities and stations, would be costly and take more time.

It took around six months to create the report, which was formulated from lengthy conversations with stakeholders and the workgroup and data from the EMS communication center.

“I think that this study is the most comprehensive and probably the most well-thought-out study that I have seen,” McKee said. “There was a lot of input … encouraging Mr. Allen to look at it from various perspectives and challenge some of the assumptions we were making as we went along.”

Since the document is in its first draft stage, the next step is to receive public comment on the plan and take it back to the board and the workgroup by sometime in October, Talbert said.

Talbert added that he doesn’t think there will be many major changes made to the plan, that it will just become more finely tuned.

“I am glad to see the conversation is ongoing and I look forward to seeing what additional progress we can make on improving our service to the community,” Montes de Oca said.

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