OCEANA COUNTY, Mich. — “It’s a difficult situation for everyone.”
That’s how Oceana County Sheriff Craig Mast sums up the controversy over a public-private partnership that resulted this week in members of the county’s Emergency Medical Services team receiving a termination letter, that would take effect this fall.
The Oceana County Board of Commissioners voted July 19 in favor of the “concept” of entering into a multi-year contract with Life EMS to provide countywide ambulance services, starting October 1, 2018. But District 1 county commissioner Dean Gustafson tells FOX 17 the contract has not been signed yet.
“The act has not been ratified…there are certain procedural things that would have to be done to notify personnel, if they were to be terminated at a certain time.”
But FOX 17 obtained a copy of a letter purportedly sent by County Administrator Dr. Robert Sobie to county EMS employees this week, saying “your employment with Oceana County will end at midnight on September 30, 2018.
The Oceana County EMS was not thrilled with the termination letter, nor the notion of emergency medical services potentially being regionalized or outsourced. The Service Employee International Union (SEIU) told the Oceana County Press in an article, “We were completely blindsided.” The county board voted to potentially terminate the SEIU contract, one week before it took the Life EMS vote. The contract reportedly was set to expire at year’s end.
The local union launched a Facebook page titled, “Help SEIU save Oceana EMS”, and encouraged people to write to the county commission in support of the current county EMS structure. The SEIU also endorsed candidates who are like-minded on the matter.
Sheriff Mast told FOX 17, “I truly sympathize with the workers, with their situation.”
Gustafson said, “There’s no dissatisfaction with anyone individually. We’re trying to look long-term. Going forward, this would give us a strong position, in terms of managing this important service in our county…we want to look for the best solution.”
Gustafson also told FOX 17 he expects all current Oceana County EMS employees will be afforded the opportunity to interview for positions with Life EMS in the county, if it ends up providing all of the ambulance services. “I hope all would be hired,” he said.
Steve Headland, a full-time paramedic with Oceana County EMS, tells FOX 17, “I have seen the letters that my co-workers received in the mail (Friday) from Life EMS saying that they’re glad that they’re entering into final negotiations, and will be contacting us in early August for applications and interviews.
“I would like to know why this is being changed. We are millage-funded and we’re under-budget. And we have a contract until the end of the year, and the county is not sticking to that contract. I would like to know why.”