Winchester EMS on Pause For Proposed Special Service Area

By Benjamin Cox on May 5, 2021 at 5:28pm

The Winchester EMS will have to wait a bit longer on the verdict for a proposed service area for the county. The Scott County Commissioners did not take up a motion to create the service area at their meeting yesterday afternoon. Commissioner Weldon Fearneyhough made a motion to create the service area after a lengthy question and answer between representatives of the EMS, the Commissioners, and members of the public. Fearneyhough’s motion died for a lack of a second.

Winchester EMS volunteer Molly Taylor says that the service’s back is up against the wall both with finances and people: “It’s mostly our staffing issues. We have about 4 members that are currently going on calls. As of [Sunday], we had 3 calls basically at one time so all three of our rigs were out at the same time. Especially on a weekend like that, we just don’t have the staffing so we are at the point now where, the president of our EMS is looking to step down. He’s been at it a long time. He’s ready to kind of retire, so that’s one less person. We are at the point where we just can’t financially pay for full time staffing out there without the county going further with something, whether that be the Special Service Area or if they have other options, which they haven’t been able to tell us any other options at this point.”

Winchester EMS basic EMT Libby Nobis says that the private, non-profit group has received very little help from the state or federal government in the form of grants. Nobis is one of only two full time employees with the EMS. Nobis says that the hours are long and the pay is sometimes based on the number of calls: “I get paid for 8 o’clock in the morning until 6 o’clock at night, and then from 6 o’clock at night until 8 in the morning, I’m a volunteer. There is 3 other people like me that are on call 24-7. One of them does not take any pay. The other individual gets paid for the day that I am not there. We do get call stipends. The three of us get a $15 call stipend per call if we get a call in the night or something.”

Taylor and Nobis says that the rest of the volunteers have opted out of receiving call stipends to help the EMS service. Taylor says that the EMS has never been out of service, and they are frequently requested to assist in other neighboring counties.

Nobis says that the proposed service area would be for the southern portion of Scott County: “It’s basically the Interstate 72 portion of the county down to Greene County and then over to where we pick up down in Manchester. There is already a taxed ambulance service in northern Scott County, so they cover that area. We basically cover the interstate to Greene County and over to the Morgan County line off of Old Route 36, then down to the Illinois River.”

Scott County Commissioner Bob Schafer said during the meeting that there are several questions concerning billing, questions surrounding a temporary funding solution through a county grant of American Recovery Act money coming by May 11th, and other legalities if the EMS were to become a possible contracted service or even a separate taxing body. Schafer indicated that he wanted more information from Scott County States Attorney Rick Crews before he would vote on the measure. The EMS is concerned that they would lose their non-profit status.

Taylor says that a public hearing would be called if an approval was granted by the commissioners to disclose taxation and funding: “We are [planning] a public hearing [if the service area passes]. We would give people 15 day notice of the public hearing. At the public hearing, there will be full on disclosure of what the taxation would be, where that money is going, who is on the board that we have put together that will oversee the money, but [the public hearing] can only happen if the resolution is passed on through the commissioners.”

Nobis urges those for the EMS service to speak up now: “We urge the people that are for this to call your commissioners. Write them a letter. Call them and voice your support of it, because right now, they are getting just the people that are against it [showing up to meetings.] The people that are for it are being quiet. I don’t know if it is because I work for the EMS, but I have not heard anyone say personally they are against the service. Everyone says that we need an ambulance, we need to keep you. There frustrations are with the commissioners right now for not doing their job right now. We had asked them 2 months ago. We sent them a certified letter 2 months ago to give us an answer, and it took us coming to the meetings two weeks in a row to get an answer, which we didn’t even receive [Monday] either. Just call your commissioners. Tell them you are for it, or if you are against it, tell them you’re against it. Tell them why. Maybe we can address why you’re against it and we can correct it.”

Taylor says that the group is open to listening to other alternatives: “We have racked our brains. We have done all of the research over the last 5 years or so trying to figure out what the best way to do this for the people of Scott County. This is what we have come up with. If anyone else has any other options, we are obviously open to it with all ears. At this point, the money we are bringing in will not continue to pay for staffing.”

As of the last Commissioners’ meeting, the EMS claims that they have already answered 175 calls in Scott County this year. Taylor asked the commissioners to attend a May 17th Winchester EMS meeting to go over the organization’s financials in greater detail and discuss the next steps in the process of creating the special service area. Commissioner Chairman Bob Schafer indicated that one or possibly two of the commissioner may attend the meeting. The meeting would have to be publicly posted to follow compliance of the Illinois Open Meetings Act.