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The staff of the Tampa Bay Times

In the EMS wars, the county takes a licking



LARGO -- Thursday's meeting of the Emergency Medical Services Advisory Council was a tough one for county offiicials. The group, which is supposed to advise the Pinellas County Commission on EMS issues, is normally a pretty placid one. But, with emtions running high over proposals to change the EMS system, that placidness is a thing of the past. And the county took a bit of bashing from EMSAC members.

On the issue of fire transport: The county says it won't work and will cost more money. In particular, two proposals by firefighters are "upside down" in figuring potential savings to the system if fire transport was used. County officials say they know this because they had consultant Mic Gunderson of Integral Performance Solutions vet the proposals. Gunderson is the consultant who came up with the proposal to pay all firefighter/paramedics in the EMS system the same wage and to eliminate about 39 firefighter/paramedics from the system.  Gunderson, county staff said, analyzed the fire transport plans and found they won't work.

Palm Harbor fire Chief Jim Angle pointed out the county is hiring another consultant to "operationalize" Gunderson's study to make sure it will work as projected.

"So, you're saying (Gunderson) was qualifed to say one plan doesn't work, but you have to hire another consultant to say (Gunderson's) plan will work?" Angle asked.

Craig Hare, who oversees EMS for the county, explained: "It's not that the consultant was flawed in any way," but his study needs to be refined and the potential impact needs to be evaluated.

Later in the meeting, Belleair Bluffs Mayor Chris Arbutine complained of the way the county phrases things, such as the recent increase in the EMS property tax. The county raised the rate 46 percent, which works out to about $30 a year for the average homeowner. Using the 46 percent number, Arbutine said, is "just another ploy on the county's part to make it look worse than it is."

Several EMSAC members complained that the county had paid an "image consultant" to help it sell LaSala's and Gunderson's plan. (The county hired Beth Leytham of the Tampa-based Leytham Group at $175 an hour to help them pitch the plan.)

Assistant County Administrator Maureen Freaney corrected them: "It's not an image consultant. It's an issues consultant."

Leytham's duties, she said, are to help the county explain a complicated system to the public, or "frame things in a way that is more clear and easier for the public to understand."

-- Anne Lindberg, Times Staff Writer

[Last modified: Friday, November 11, 2011 4:33pm]


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