NAPLES DAILY NEWS

Collier EMS union alleges county is trying to privatize department

Tuesday, September 9, 2003

By LARRY HANNAN, ljhannan@naplesnews.com



Union officials representing Collier County emergency medical services workers contend the county administration is looking into turning EMS over to a private company.

County officials deny they are actively looking to do so, but acknowledge meeting with officials from a private medical services company, Metro Ambulance/Superior Ambulance, this past Friday.

The union and Collier County officials are negotiating a new contract and progress has been slow. The next bargaining session is scheduled for Wednesday.

Deputy County Manager Leo Ochs said Metro Ambulance/Superior Ambulance scheduled a meeting with County Manager Jim Mudd last week and county officials didn't know what the meeting was about until they met with the company.

"Last week Jim and I met with a guy who represents a private vendor who provides EMS services," Ochs said. "We told him this wasn't a subject that we'd considered before. They wanted to make a proposal to us, and we'll listen to them, but that's as far as it's gone."

A meeting probably will be set up involving senior county officials and representatives of the independent fire districts to hear the company's proposal, Ochs said.

Collier County Public Services Administrator John Dunnuck said it's unlikely the county will turn EMS over to a private company.

"We're happy with the EMS service we have now," Dunnuck said. "We'll listen to what they have to say, but right now it's nothing more than that."

Dunnuck said he doubts a private company can run EMS effectively. He also said the county hadn't looked into the background of Metro Ambulance.

"We might do some background work on them," Dunnuck said. "But I don't think we'll be doing an extensive background check on them because I don't see us privatizing EMS."

If the county staff does decide to look seriously at the company's proposal, then it will do a detailed background check, he said.

Dunnuck said Metro Ambulance is based in Chicago and runs EMS in some suburbs of that city.

Daily News attempts to contact Metro Ambulance officials were unsuccessful Monday.

Jim Brantley, chief negotiator for Southwest Florida Professional Fire Fighters & Paramedics Local 1826, was dubious of the county's explanation.

"I don't think these people just magically appeared in Collier County," Brantley said.

The union has filed a public records request with county staff requesting all correspondence between county officials and Metro Ambulance, Brantley said.

Collier County would be making a mistake turning EMS over to a private company instead of continuing to operate it as a county government service, Brantley said.

"For-profit ambulance service only provides the most basic of service," Brantley said. "I don't think this community would accept replacing an award-winning EMS department."

In 2000, Collier EMS was named the nation's EMS Paramedic Service of the Year by the National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians.

A private company trying to make a profit would have a limited number of ambulances, and would pay EMS personnel lower salaries, he said.

Brantley also contended that Metro Ambulance isn't registered to operate in the state.

"We're still trying to find out information on the background of this company," Brantley said. "We really don't know who they are."

At the last negotiating session, county officials made a pay proposal to EMS. Brantley said the union has studied that proposal and will make a counteroffer at Wednesday's bargaining session.