Friday, February 23, 2018
Editorials

Editorial: Baby steps to EMS efficiency

After years of studies and political fights over the future of Pinellas County's Emergency Medical Services, the bottom line remains the same. The system provides quality service but costs too much — and there is not the political will to make dramatic changes to EMS and fire departments to truly reform a complicated system. So county Administrator Bob LaSala's new pitch to county commissioners this week is a modest attempt to more fairly distribute costs and establish future limits on the county's expenses.

Pinellas' countywide EMS system is a hybrid Cadillac. City fire departments and fire districts respond first to car accidents and other emergency calls, and a private ambulance company transports patients to hospitals. The ambitious goal is to respond to at least 90 percent of the calls within 7 ½ minutes, and the actual response time is often faster. But there are no cost controls on what the county pays cities and fire districts, and some cities are essentially subsidizing their fire departments with EMS money. The county's escalating expenses in recent years have been covered by increases in the countywide property tax for EMS and by raiding reserves. That is not a sustainable system, but some county commissioners, city officials and fire chiefs have derailed more aggressive efforts to cut costs and increase efficiencies.

LaSala's latest proposal reflects the political realities and should be less painful to St. Petersburg and other cities. First, the county would make small adjustments to EMS payments to cities and fire districts over three years to make them more equitable and better reflect the true costs of the system. Three areas would divide an additional $765,000: Tarpon Springs, Palm Harbor and the Redington beach communities. Ten would remain flat, but five would see a total cut of $2.3 million: St. Petersburg, Clearwater, Largo, Pinellas Park and Lealman. St. Petersburg's cut would be $1 million of that total, but it would be spread over three years and should be manageable.

Aside from those adjustments, the county would freeze EMS payments for the next three years, which could force more efficiencies. For the next seven years after that, increases would be tied to a medical consumer price index or some other standard formula. The county estimates the payment freeze followed by the cap on increases would save more than $16 million over a decade, a modest amount for an EMS system that sends more than $40 million a year now to city fire departments and fire districts.

This is a far cry from more than two years ago, when LaSala hoped to save more than $15 million a year by changing the way fire departments are reimbursed and reducing the number of paramedics it pays to staff each unit. St. Petersburg stood to lose more than $8 million and threatened a lawsuit. That plan went up in flames, and more consultant studies and political grandstanding have yet to generate any savings in a system where the status quo can't survive in the long term.

LaSala hopes to rekindle the conversation with county commissioners Tuesday with this scaled-down alternative. The commissioners should listen closely and embrace this direction. Other critical aspects of state and local government have had to become more efficient, and EMS should be just as accountable. The harder conversations about restructuring the hybrid EMS system and downsizing fire departments will have to wait for the political will to build. If county commissioners can't take even this tiny step, they risk creating a bigger financial mess that will be harder to fix.

Comments
Editorial: The time to act on guns is now

Editorial: The time to act on guns is now

The nationís conversation on guns took an encouraging step this week in three essential places ó South Florida, Tallahassee and Washington ó as survivors, victimsí families and elected leaders searched painfully and sincerely for common ground after ...
Published: 02/22/18
Editorial: They value guns, not kids

Editorial: They value guns, not kids

They value guns over kidsSix days after 17 were killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High by a teen-ager firing an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle, the Florida House refused to even debate a bill banning the sale of assault weapons. The vote, 71 to 36, wasn...
Published: 02/21/18
Editorial: Listen to Marjory Stoneman Douglas students demanding change

Editorial: Listen to Marjory Stoneman Douglas students demanding change

Students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School are traveling to the state capital today and declaring "never again.íí A prominent Florida Republican fundraiser vows he wonít raise another nickel until his party approves new gun controls. Across F...
Published: 02/19/18

Editorial: No more doubt about Russian meddling in election

The latest indictment by the Justice Department special counsel, Robert Mueller, refutes President Donald Trumpís claims that Russian interference in the 2016 election was a Democratic hoax. The indictment details the lengths Russian conspirators too...
Published: 02/19/18

Another voice: Tips should belong to workers, not their bosses

The Trump administration is under fire for proposing a Labor Department regulation that could result in hotel and restaurant employers dipping into the tips customers leave for their employees, depriving the nationís 14 million hard-working restauran...
Published: 02/18/18
Updated: 02/20/18
Editorial: Trumpís rising deficits and misplaced priorities

Editorial: Trumpís rising deficits and misplaced priorities

Itís not popular in Washington or virtually anywhere else these days to express concern about the rising federal deficit. Congressional Republicans who used to be deficit hawks first voted to cut taxes by $1.5 trillion over the next decade, then rais...
Published: 02/17/18
Editorial: Buckhorn should not appeal verdict in firefighterís case

Editorial: Buckhorn should not appeal verdict in firefighterís case

The city of Tampa should have taken Tanja Vidovic seriously from the start when the Tampa firefighter complained about her treatment in the workplace. Now that a jury and judge have spoken, itís time for City Hall to cut its losses, learn from its mi...
Published: 02/15/18
Updated: 02/16/18
Editorial: CareerSource troubles mount as public trust drops

Editorial: CareerSource troubles mount as public trust drops

The dark cloud enveloping Tampa Bayís job placement centers keeps growing. There are accusations of forged documents, evidence of nepotism and concerns about grossly inflated performance numbers that could be tied to receiving more public money and b...
Published: 02/15/18
Updated: 02/16/18
Editorials: Prayers and platitudes after shootings arenít enough

Editorials: Prayers and platitudes after shootings arenít enough

Even before the victims of another mass shooting at another public school were identified, Gov. Rick Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi, state legislators and members of Congress rushed to South Florida or to social media to offer their thoughts and p...
Published: 02/15/18
Editorial: DCF review should get to the bottom of Hillsborough foster care issues

Editorial: DCF review should get to the bottom of Hillsborough foster care issues

The Florida Department of Children and Families is right to call for a timely and "comprehensive" review of Hillsborough Countyís foster care system. Though the probe is a reaction to a recent case involving a child who was left unattended, the revie...
Published: 02/14/18