From the pages of
Sublette Examiner
Volume 3, Number 33 - November 13, 2003
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

Big Piney's paid EMTs resign

by Cat Urbigkit

Big Piney's three paid emergency medical technicians resigned from their paid positions at the Rural Health Care District meeting Monday night in Marbleton, in protest of the board taking action to micro-manage the emergency medical service and undermining the independence of the EMS, according to their letters of resignation.

Dr. David Burnett and Rich Anderson of the Marbleton-Big Piney Clinic spoke with the board as the medical director and supervisor for the EMS. Burnett explained that at a recent special meeting, the board adopted a policy regarding how EMTs sign up on their call schedule. That policy conflicts with a policy already in place in the Big Piney EMS that was voted on by a majority of the service, which is an autonomous organization with its own constitution and bylaws.

Burnett said his understanding was that the issue came about because a member of the board heard a grievance from an EMT. The problem escalated, Burnett said, when the board failed to follow the established chain of command and decided to micro-manage the service instead of letting the service's medical director and supervisor "have the liberty to take care of our own business."

The result is that the two full-time EMTs and one half-time EMT will resign from those positions effective Dec. 1 and revert back to volunteers, Burnett said. He added that another consequence of the board's action is that he and Anderson will henceforth limit their activities, labors and time to only the volunteer service. Should the board decide to proceed with the paid service once again, Burnett notified them that neither he nor Anderson will accept the supervisory or administrative oversight of the paid service, including the paperwork burden. Burnett suggested the board choose a board member to resume those duties.

Board Member Jerry Jensen said that the policy adoption came about from the board's concern that volunteer EMTs aren't getting enough time and experience in the ambulance because of paid EMTs taking call time. He said the policy was the board's attempt to address that issue, which stems from concerns with both of the county's two ambulance services.

Burnett said while he realizes the board was trying to institute some continuity between the two services, the services are two distinct entities with differing bylaws.

"Your intent doesn't answer the question of the chain of command," Burnett pointed out. He spoke in defense of the EMS organization's right to make its own policies and the need to respect that right.

He said after speaking with the EMTs, the general view was 'If it's broke in Pinedale, don't fix it in Big Piney.'

Burnett concluded, "What wasn't broke is now broke."

Board Member Bill Barney said he had a conversation last October with an EMT who raised the issue. Barney said that he, as a board member, raised the issue several times since then at the board's policy meetings in front of EMTs.

Barney said, "The perception that somehow the chain of command has been bypassed is incorrect."

Barney said it does appear that there is a conflict between the board's policy and the EMS policy and suggested that there may be a way to address that conflict. He suggested, as he has in the past, that the Big Piney EMS program "is working, unlike some other places."

Burnett said that eight months ago he had spoken with the board about an issue and the board declared the need for communication to be a two-way street.

"I'm not satisfied that the chain of command hasn't been violated," Burnett told the board. "Ironically, I suppose that if your intent was to have both services operate much in the same manner, with the resignation of these three EMTs, you've accomplished just that," Burnett said.

Board Member Garry Eiden said he in no way supports the board action that offended the EMTs.

"We have some of the greatest EMTs in the world working for us, on both ends of the county," Eiden said. "I think it's sad we have to create a problem that has never been a problem."

Anderson said that the board policy action stirred controversy and created a division between the paid EMTs and the volunteers. He said that the board's policy should be to simply let the individual services handle these issues. Even if the board amended its policy to address the EMT concerns, Anderson said, the chain of command issue is still there.

"Does it happen again in nine months?" Anderson asked.

Burnett said the main point he was getting at was that the EMS should handle it, but the EMTs' perception is that "you decided to take it upon yourself to over-ride their decisions."

Pinedale EMT Kris Bacheller told the board she agreed with her Big Piney counterparts, noting that in the Pinedale EMS, the majority rules, the same as in Big Piney.

"By making this policy, you are superceding our existing policy," Bacheller said.

Eiden spoke against the board's policy-making and Board Chairman Walt Bousman advocated that the majority rule in the EMS should drive the issue, not the board.

EMTs Wendy Gaston, JoAnn Yeary and Katie Krieger stepped forward to lay their letters to resignation on the table in front of the board members. The resignations take effect Dec. 1. These EMTs all plan to continue to serve with the volunteer service.

Burnett said the way he sees it, when the resignations take effect, the Big Piney EMS is back to being a volunteer service.

The board did end up making changes to its policy so that it apparently no longer conflicts with the Big Piney EMS policy, but it never addressed the chain of command issue. It also did not take any action or say anything in an attempt to keep the EMTs from resigning from the paid positions, but neither did the board officially accept the resignations. The EMTs left the meeting, as did Burnett and Anderson, and the board continued with other business.

Later in the meeting, the board did agree to change its advertisement seeking EMTs applications to reflect that it will entertain applications countywide, rather than just in Pinedale.

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