After several hundred thousand dollars worth of consultants, at least four years of staff time, an expensive Sonoma County “agency” supposedly handling emergency services for Mendocino County in a professionally staffed manner, it was surprising, if not downright shocking, to watch Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting in which the Board and staff demonstrated a disturbing ignorance regarding emergency services in Mendocino County.
Three weeks ago, the Board voted 3-1 (McCowen dissenting, with Dan Gjerde absent) to put County dispatch and inland ambulance services out to bid at the same time in the next few months. The three Supervisors who voted for the combined RFP “timeline” gave absolutely no reason for outvoting Supervisor John McCowen, who tried to point out that contracting for dispatch at the same time as inland ambulance services would be too disruptive. No matter, Dan Hamburg, Carre Brown and Georgeanne Croskey voted to go ahead anyway for no other reason than that it was presented to them that way by Sonoma County’s Coastal Valley EMS pseudo-agency, an agency that has drawn criticism for high-handedness in Sonoma County as well as some circles in Mendocino County.
Fortunately, when Supervisor Dan Gjerde returned from vacation he exercised his option as Supervisor to revisit the decision, pointing out that the Board may not have known that Calfire was billing the county at a discounted rate, only for personnel, but not for overhead or facilities costs.
Turns out that was the least of what the Supervisors didn’t know:
They didn’t know that there are five separate dispatch operations in Mendocino County (two of which overlap with the inland Exclusive Operating Area: Ukiah and Willits dispatch centers)
They didn’t know (or didn’t realize) that privatizing dispatch would affect the entire county, not just the 101 corridor.
They didn’t know that there would be substantial cost savings if the Ukiah and/or Willits dispatch operations were combined with current County-wide EMS dispatcher, Calfire.
They didn’t know the cost of the current dispatch contracts was and what the savings might be if combined.
They didn’t know the call volumes by area, nor what current response times for dispatch or ambulance response are, even though CalFire’s computer aided dispatch system could easily provide that info.
They didn’t know the background of the conversations that had occurred between local fire agencies and Coastal Valley EMS, which had previously told the fire officials that the dispatch and ambulance had to be done together when they don’t.
They didn’t know what options they had for contracting out dispatch nor had any of the expensive prior consultant reports specifically addressed dispatch as an issue or a problem.
They didn’t know that CalFire would still have to do fire dispatch, ambulance dispatch or not.
They didn’t know Calfire employs experienced firefighters as dispatchers.
They didn’t know that Calfire’s Microwave communication system provides a good back up when internet or wire communications go down.
They didn’t know about Calfire’s extensive mapping software to more effectively locate incidents and responding units.
And several other important emergency factors too long to mention here.
Did Coastal Valley intentionally withhold this vital information for some hidden privatization agenda? Did County HHSA staff ask for it before putting it before the Board? Did the Supervisors who casually voted to go out for bid three weeks ago ask any related questions? Whatever the answers to those questions are, everyone involved should be summarily fired for failing to do proper staff work on such an important matter.
After a four hour break, and after a parade of firefighters from every part of the county urged the Board to continue with CalFire, the Board returned to the issue late in the afternoon and voted 3-2 (Gjerde, McCowen, Croskey in favor; Brown and Hamburg against) for Gjerde’s motion to split the dispatch RFP from the ambulance RFP and to work with Calfire to incorporate any new requirements. Brown and Hamburg inexplicably said that 1) they didn’t realize the disruption problem associated with changing both dispatch and ambulance services at the same even though McCowen had made that problem quite clear three weeks ago, and 2) they didn’t want to be seen as not supporting staff — the same staff that had failed to present the full range of issues and information to the Board. Hamburg also argued that in his own exalted opinion he was quite sure Calfire would win any competitive bidding anyway, which would give Calfire some bragging rights. (!) To make such a contorted argument assumes that a private corporate contractor couldn’t out-promise and underbid Calfire with a package deal on both ambulance and dispatch.
Supervisor Croskey was the swing vote. She obviously saw the error of her previous vote and deserves much credit for reversing her position in light of the new information and the arguments of the local fire officials who unanimously called on the Board to hold off on putting dispatch out to bid.