Ambulance: Oroville Council hears concerns about 'level of care'

“The entire community will suffer if we go to a private service.” Mark Bordwell, concerned citizen

Lifeline Ambulance Service meets city’s qualifications

OROVILLE – While no one could point to a situation where the “level of care” was less now that the Emergency Services District has gone to Lifeline for ambulance service, the phrase continues to come up at Oroville City Council meetings.

That concern was emphasized by Mark Bordwell, a vocal opponent of the switch to the private ambulance service. Bordwell’s wife served as a volunteer EMT for the EMS District for several years. Lisa Bordwell and her fellow volunteers gave the city an ultimatum when they all submitted their resignation letters to the city stating they would resign at the end of August if, among other things, something wasn’t done to alleviate the shortage of qualified EMTs available to respond to calls.

Stating the city had been backed into a corner, the city council and the Okanogan County Commissioners hired Lifeline Ambulance Service as an emergency measure to fill in while a final decision was made as to how they felt the district could best be served.

“My concern is the level of care being provided by the ambulance service,” said Bordwell at the Tuesday, Sept. 15 council meeting. “The rural area requires three people on the ambulance, while we have two (through Lifeline) it may be legally, but not morally right. You can try CPR with one person, but you can’t do modern CPR.”

Bordwell said that when the two member Lifeline team responds to a scene and has to transport someone to the hospital they have to retone for a volunteer firefighter to drive the ambulance while the two EMTs take care of the patient in the back.

“For years 95 percent of the time we’ve had three people respond to the scene. And what happens if we have two injuries, we’d need two ambulances to transport,” said Bordwell. “The way it is now we can’t run a second unit ever. We shouldn’t have to rely on Tonasket sending a unit to cover for us. That means the city and Lifeline are not providing the level of care we are used to.”

Bob Garrison (left) and General Manager of Wenatchee-based Lifeline Ambulance, Inc., give Oroville's ambulance  a quick cleaning on Friday morning. Gary DeVon/staff photo
Bob Garrison (left) and General Manager of Wenatchee-based Lifeline Ambulance, Inc., give Oroville’s ambulance a quick cleaning on Friday morning. Gary DeVon/staff photo

Bordwell said the concern about the EMS not being able to get enough volunteers has been going on for several years. He said Chris Allen, who was named the spokesman for the former ambulance crew, was not the cause, “just the final straw.” He said the concerns of the volunteer crew had been ignored for too long.

“Too bad this much effort hadn’t gone into solving the problems. Not once did you all get together and talk this out. The EMS crew was drowning, Chris Allen threw them a lifeline,” Bordwell said.

Bordwell also chided the city’s ambulance committee, Councilmen Tony Koepke and Jon Neal, for not attending Rural EMS meetings. However, Bordwell apologized when Councilman Koepke informed him that he was at nearly all the meetings to which he referred.

“The entire community will suffer if we go to a private service,” concluded Bordwell.

After Bordwell was done making his statement, Mayor Chuck Spieth said, “If that’s all you have we’re going to move on.”

The city and county have made a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) and they received replies from both Lifeline Ambulance Service and North Star Ambulance, a company put together by Allen with the former volunteers as its employees.

Chris Branch, the director of Community Development, explained that the city had determined that Lifeline met the qualifications desired by the city, while North Star fell short. He said the new company could not prove that it had the accounting and administrative structures in place, nor insurance to cover liability. While the city may have approved of Lifeline’s RFQs the county, through the Okanogan County Commissioners, still plays a part in any final decisions. If Lifeline is chosen by both parties, representing Oroville and the rural EMS, to continue providing ambulance service, then both parties will decide how they will negotiate with the company for services and at what level, explained Branch.

The Emergency Services District is made up of two distinct taxing districts that work in tandem to provide emergency care and transportation – city and rural. The boundaries for the EMS District are the same as the Oroville School District. The city has been administrating the district though and interlocal agreement with the county.