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Commissioners continue to support Cole County ambulance director

Commissioners continue to support Cole County ambulance director

Former employee: Morale at all-time low

April 25th, 2018 by Jeff Haldiman in Local News

In this June 30, 2016 file photo, an Cole County Emergency Medical Services (EMS) ambulance stands by at the scene of a vehicle crash.

Photo by Julie Smith /News Tribune.

Cole County commissioners said they continue to support Cole County Ambulance Director Jerry Johnston as changes to personnel continue at the service.

Since Friday, when three employees of the service were fired, three more have resigned from their positions.

Among those turning in their resignations was Brody Eller, a part-time paramedic on military leave.

In a letter sent Monday to all three members of the County Commission, Eller said, "It is clear that employees are scared of losing their job and that Jerry has threatened their careers. We have never had this many paramedic openings, and we have never had a recruiter not able to recruit paramedics based on our reputation. To mitigate the downward spiral the service is in, I urge you to hire a new director/chief."

Eller and those who recently have been fired or resigned have said it wasn't until the dismissals occurred that they could talk publicly about what they felt was taking place with the service for fear of retaliation by Johnston. They said they were told only that the service was "moving in a different direction" when they were let go.

They also believed Johnston wanted to get rid of those who had been with the service since it was run by Capital Region Medical Center. The county took over the service in 2009 after voters approved the formation of a countywide ambulance district in November 2008, funded through a sales tax.

As of Tuesday, county officials said, the service has 10 open full-time positions, four of which are for paramedics on the night shift. The service is using a combination of part-time employees and supervisors to man shifts for the open positions, commissioners said.

The budget allows for 55 full-time positions, with 45 currently filled.

The service is down from 41 part-time positions filled last week to 38 now.

Following their Tuesday meeting, commissioners said they could not comment about what led to the dismissals, as they were personnel matters, and employees could go through the proper grievance procedures for a hearing. Commissioners also wanted to assure the community the ambulance service would continue to meet the needs of the public.

"I want to re-emphasize that I don't want citizens to worry," Presiding Commissioner Sam Bushman said Tuesday. "They will be covered. They won't see any difference in service."

Bushman earlier said he felt there were "a lot of different opinions as to about what was going on at the service."

"I understand easing public concern, but I feel the commission does not realize the huge amount of deficiencies the service is operating in," Eller said. "Morale is the lowest that I've ever seen. Are they going to perform at their best? Is it just a job, or do they care about the service?"

Eller said he would continue the effort to unionize the ambulance service. Unionization would require a 50 percent vote of full-time employees. Eller added the Lake Area International Association of Fire Fighters has agreed to bring the Cole County Ambulance Service on if the members vote for it. The IAFF represents other ambulance services, including the Miller County Ambulance Service.

Eller said it would be a couple of weeks before such a vote would take place.

Since the beginning of the year, the County Commission has had 12 scheduled closed sessions, including one Tuesday, where personnel matters were listed as a reason for closing the session. The majority of those sessions resulted in no reportable actions taken, such as termination of personnel, but many times discussions involved the ambulance service.