Emergency service still going to rural McCleary — for now

Emergency medical services will be available in outlying McCleary areas for now through the end of the month, but how long after that and what calls will require an ambulance still appears to be a question.

Grays Harbor Fire District 12 commissioners signed an agreement Thursday night officially cancelling its EMS contract with Fire District 5 at the end of the month. As of Feb. 1, there is no agreement in place to guarantee response to emergency medical calls.

Commissioner Jerry Banks said he had hoped to have all the signatures on the agreement and cancel service by Jan. 1, but wasn’t able reach all the commissioners. The extra month will cost about $3,800 in availability fees to District 5 plus fees for any calls to which it responds, but Banks said it was worth the extra time despite the already strained budget for 2013.

“It was tight, but we felt it was the proper thing to do under the circumstances,” Banks said. The District 12 commissioners hope to use the extra time to work out some kind of plan for at least some coverage after Feb. 1, possibly working out a per-call fee arrangement with the McCleary Fire Department and using District 5 only for transport.

District 5 Chief Dan Prater said his commissioners have sent a letter offering to merge with District 12, creating a regional fire authority.

“Basically merging them together and bringing the organizations together. A lot of places around the state have been doing it, but not Grays Harbor,” Prater said. State officials “were kind of scared of it in the beginning because it was a new thing, but now they’re kind of starting to promote them because they’ve seen the effectiveness of these organizations coming together.”

Prater emphasized such an arrangement, if District 12 was interested, would be a merger, not a takeover by District 5, as well as a lengthy process subject to voter approval.

“We’re trying to do everything we can and still follow the rules of the law. Our commissioners are very sympathetic. They hate this. Our family, our friends, people we know and love — this is just as much a part of our community as District 5 is,” Prater said.

One of the major concerns is about continuing EMS coverage for District 12 without fees.

There is one area of disagreement between the two districts: Banks said the Department of Health told him District 5 would be obligated to continue to respond to only trauma calls in the District 12 area for 90 to 120 days after it notifies the state their contract has been canceled.

“Their intent is to never leave an area without EMS coverage. So they will just work hand-in-hand with us to try and source another provider,” Banks said. He was not aware of any fee due to District 5 from District 12 for that service, but guessed it would still be able to bill patients.

Prater said he has been told by the state the district has to revise its trauma certification to let the state know it no longer has a contract with District 12, but had not heard about any requirement to provide additional coverage. “I haven’t heard that. If that’s the case they’re going to be billed because we can’t provide service for free,” Prater said.

At District 12’s meeting Thursday, Banks said there was only one public comment: A request to re-run the levy and keep EMS service. Other than that and one email, the district hasn’t heard from anyone on why the EMS levy failed in November’s election.

Prater said District 5 has heard questions and rumors about the contract, including the notion that EMS coverage was once free when Mark Reed Hospital District provided it. Prater explained those fees were added to the hospital district’s existing taxes, adding that if fire districts had the same fee-setting authority as cities and municipalities did for EMS, “this would be a minute issue.”

“What’s really sad is we’ll have to drive through District 12 in order to respond to a McCleary call,” Prater said.

District 12 will hold another meeting this Thursday, Jan. 10, at 7 p.m. at the McCleary Fire Hall. Banks said commissioners hope to get input on EMS coverage going forward, why the levy failed, and answer any questions residents may have.