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Bonner County Emergency Medical Services (BC EMS)

Giving up operational and management control, would be a very poor management decision by the BOCC.

Bonner County Emergency Medical Services (BC EMS)
(Bonner County EMS Facebook)

Bonner County Emergency Medical Services (BC EMS)

Editor’s Note: This is an open letter to the Bonner County Commissioners concerning the suggested restructuring of the EMS service.

Dear Commissioners,

Many of us recall the initial meetings to form a county-wide medical service many years ago. Perhaps the formation of Bonner County Emergency Medical Services (BC EMS) by that Board, was not done properly; they failed to have a vote of the public to impose the new tax. However, we all knew the issues and short-comings with the private ambulance service. Creating BC EMS was the best solution. Sometimes doing the “Right Thing” is more important than “Doing Things Right.” BC EMS has served us county-wide extremely well, and grown into a highly valuable first responder asset of Bonner County.

Initially, BC EMS had some growing pains and suffered from a lack of strong leadership. Once effective leadership was provided, BC EMS evolved into more than “city curbside medical transport.” BC EMS provides the organizational structure that incorporated the disparate levels of medical services provided by fire agencies and volunteers from Clark Fork to Priest Lake, into an effective county-wide EMS.

While commanding Priest Lake Search & Rescue (17 years) and serving as county commissioner (4 years), I assisted BC EMS in developing its backcountry rescue capabilities. BC EMS became a professional and highly skilled medical rescue asset for all of Bonner County, including the backcountry. They have the personnel, skills, knowledge, ability and equipment to successfully execute medical rescues under the harshest conditions, regardless of the location. These trained and dedicated employees save lives.

Turning back the clock by privatizing this valuable asset, and giving up operational and management control, would be a very poor management decision by the BOCC. I fear the citizens and visitors of Bonner County would likely pay the ultimate price for such an unfortunate decision.

We must maintain county-wide EMS under the auspices and direct operational control of Bonner County. I implore you to reconsider your options regarding BC EMS.

1. My first recommendation is appointing a strong BC EMS Director and stay the course with BC EMS as it currently exists to provide county-wide service.
2. If you chose not to maintain EMS as a separate entity, then put it under the Sheriff, as BCSO also provides county-wide emergency services.

For the taxpayer funding it, EMS needs to report to an elected official (BOCC or Sheriff) with county-wide authority, responsibility, and accountability.

Respectively submitted for your consideration,

Mike A. Nielsen

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4 Comments on Bonner County Emergency Medical Services (BC EMS)

  1. Mike,

    First of all, thanks for the letter and the opportunity to address your concerns. I read your letter with great interest as it gave some good information of the history of BCEMS and I agree, back in 2005 at that time, forming a Bonner County EMS was essential as the private for profit entity model wasn’t working out.

    That being said, I’m surprised you didn’t reach out to me before writing this opinion piece as there seems to be a few important aspects that you mistakenly posted that I would like to clear up.

    First of all, we have not made a decision as to the direction but one of the models is a Community Based non-profit, not a private for profit system that you referenced so no, we are not considering privatizing EMS in Bonner County.

    Additionally, your comment about giving up control, would you have reached out to me you would have known that any move we make will include a contract whereby Bonner County remains in control through a year to year agreement that Bonner County can get out of at anytime. This agreement would include specific performance and staffing requirements, etc., so as to keep Bonner County in control.

    To the patient, any change will never be noticed as we will utilize the same personnel, have the same stations, etc., the difference will be in the middle management area that no one ever sees. The service will necessarily improve as will the coverage. It will especially be improved for the Priest River area that sometimes gets the short end of the stick in coverage.

    Additionally, you are very familiar with Community Based Non-profit and their successes as every fire department and Priest Lake EMS are all Community Based non-profits with the exception of Sandpoint Fire. It’s a proven model but only one of the models we are still considering.

    The motivation behind looking at making some changes starts with better coverage and improving service. I’m not sure how anyone can be opposed to that. You know as a former Commissioner that there are a number of moving targets with things like EMS and again, I agree, in 2005 the Commissioners were up against the wall and I think back then they made the best decision they could. As a responsible elected official, we are constently looking to improve services for the citizens of Bonner County while reducing costs where we can if possible. We believe we are going the right direction and not returning to the failures of the past.

    As far as a Sheriff based, one of the issue we have had with BCEMS is the management consisting of former law enforcement, not Paramedics. We feel that the day to day management is better coming from a medical professional with EMS background and rural EMS experience. Besides, the Sheriff already has a full plate to deal with.

  2. So, if utilizing the same personnel, same stations, etc, then WHY contract it out? This could all be resolved without issues if a COMPETENT chief were hired. You admit better management should come from a medical professional and not law enforcement. Then hire a medical professional. Why are you going through the hassle of contracting this service out?

  3. As far as Priest River getting the short end of the stick, previous leadership (before Bussey) took PR’s chase rig away. Why hasn’t it been sent back over? The ambulance gets sent clear to Priest Lake for ALS calls and tying it up, when a chase rig could take it’s place and keep the ambulance free for other calls down in PR. Sounds like a common sense approach is all that’s needed in this whole situation.

  4. If you haven’t made a decision yet, then why are you going on the radio with OUR county’s interim chief pushing for this new ambulance service to take over? What do the other Commissioners say? Why aren’t they pushing for this choice? Oh, and bragging about your retirement…..really distasteful. Seriously.

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