Last week, Rutherford County Manager Carl Classen made the decision to merge the county’s Transit and EMS departments into one Transportation Services Department.
This decision raises some questions.
Typically consolidation is undertaken to merge similar functions and cultures to achieve more efficient service delivery and to reduce redundancy for greater cost effectiveness.
EMS and Transit are not the same functionally or culturally.
EMS is all about first providing emergency medical services and then transporting patients to the hospital if necessary while Transit is about routinely moving people who are not experiencing any sort of emergency. They do transport medical patients to the hospital and to doctor’s visits.
Culturally, the two are even more disparate.
EMS is fast-paced involving teamwork, making good split-second critical decisions, rendering life saving treatment and calmly working under extremely stressful and often traumatic circumstances.
Transit, on the other hand, is slower paced and is more about following a fixed schedule or routine and being courteous to the passengers. EMS providers are a unique breed.
This merger is like trying to mix oil and water — it won’t blend.
To add to the situation, Classen elected to place the new department under the direction of a non-EMS person.
EMS is a critical and complex service and needs to be under the direction of an EMS professional. We recognize that Terry Baynard is that kind of professional but, when the buck stops, it will be with the overseer of the entire department.
There is no doubt that Kerry Giles is a capable manager as she has proven through her leadership of Transit. However, this is an overwhelming challenge and we hope that Giles is up to the task as the safety of everyone in the county is on the line.
There is some validity to Classen suggesting the combination of departments to handle “back office” tasks such as billing and collections. Transit and EMS both do Medicaid and Medicare billing and both try to collect what is due to the county. If this merger is to seek a combination of those services perhaps a better solution is to assign those duties — for both departments — to the County Finance Department.
It is true that times are tough and cost savings need to be found in county government operations. However, it is not worth putting the efficient operation of EMS at risk for the sake of saving a few dollars. The lives of our citizens are much more valuable.
By Matthew Clark, for the Editorial Board
The Daily Courier Editorial Board consists of community members Jerry Brewer, Kyle Bingham, Tom Padgett, Dr. Shermaine Surratt and Cliff Strassenburg as well as Editor Matthew Clark