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Pinellas EMS, fire study lacks solutions, officials say

Two high-ranking city officials from St. Petersburg and Pinellas Park say a study of Pinellas' emergency medical system appears to be falling short of expectations and could act like a "hand grenade" to inflame touchy relations between the county and cities.

Tish Elston, a St. Petersburg city administrator, and Mike Gustafson, Pinellas Park's city manager, wrote a memo to Seminole City Manager Frank Edmunds after a meeting to hear an oral update of the study's progress. Edmunds heads a 20-member committee that County Administrator Bob LaSala convened to help him find a solution to fire and EMS problems.

"It was hard to leave the meeting without a feeling of disappointment," Elston and Gustafson wrote. "It does not appear that the comprehensive analysis we were promised is going to materialize. As a result, we may be headed for a painful and disorderly series of uncoordinated reactions that further strain the relationship among our communities."

The memo was intended to provide information for the consultant and was not designed to be publicly distributed, Elston said.

"They asked for input on the verbal presentations and that's what we did," Gustafson said.

The county agreed last December to pay Integral Performance Solutions $130,000 to study the county's EMS system. The company originally said it could have the study done in 23 weeks from a January starting date. But the contract established a longer schedule that the county has several times extended.

LaSala said last month that a report would be forthcoming in December, but, on Tuesday, he said the report would be delayed yet again. The new due date is sometime in January.

"I'm going to be directing the consultant to do more work," LaSala said. "I believe we need a far higher level of detail in … comparative analysis of programs and systems and comparative analysis of costs."

While the committee members have gotten updates on the study's progress, the public has not. LaSala has ordered IPS to refrain from submitting anything in writing and has gagged committee members. The Elston-Gustafson memo is the first glimpse the public has had into topics that are being discussed.

The memo indicates that the two were upset with a discussion over funding and an apparent decision to dismiss the possibility of having firefighters transport patients to hospitals without fully researching the idea.

The discussion about funding the system provided solutions that "frankly, we could probably have come up with ourselves," the two wrote. They added that one of the proposals would cut county funding and force cities to raise taxes to provide EMS services.

"The study should be pointing us to an orderly path of change,'' they wrote, "but this seems more like tossing a hand grenade and watching the fallout."

LaSala said he was not surprised by the memo. Both cities, he said, want to try firefighter transport.

"I expected it to be harsh," LaSala said. "I'm not surprised when you understand that both those communities want to do something that is very different than the best interest of the entire system."

LaSala said he would answer the allegations and concerns in the final report.

Elston and Gustafson said they are still hopeful that the county study will provide the answers.

"My sense is that the county is really trying to make sure that is a study that plays a role in solving the problems. I think there's a bona fide effort," Elston said. "I'm still hopeful that in the end we will have a productive study."

Reach Anne Lindberg at alindberg@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8450.

Pinellas EMS, fire study lacks solutions, officials say 11/16/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 16, 2010 4:36pm]
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