A Hostile Takeover Of Emergency Services
by Mark Scaramella, August 23, 2017
THE SUPES VOTED 3-1 TUESDAY to proceed with the privatization of county dispatch services and inland ambulance services. The beneficiariary of the county’s latest give away will be the global Danish ambulance and medical services giant, the Falck Group.
SUPERVISOR John McCowen wisely tried to convince his fellow Supervisors (Gjerde was absent) that it would be disruptive to privatize both dispatch services and ambulance services at the same time, suggesting that the dispatch Request For Propsal (RPF or bid) be held up for some period before being issued.
BUT EVEN AFTER the Calfire Chief, AV Chief Andres Avila (representing both the AV Fire Department and the Mendocino Fire Chiefs Associations Communications Committee) and the Sheriff said they were happy with Calfire’s dispatch services, Supervisors Dan Hamburg, Carre Brown and Georgeanne Croskey (who should not even be voting on matters she won’t have to live with because she’s leaving the County and her seat at the first of the year well before the results of this decision will kick in) said they believed putting dispatch out to bid (with Sonoma County’s urban-oriented Coastal Valley EMS outfit managing the process) might save some “taxpayer dollars,” seldom a primary consideration with these people.
EVERYONE DIRECTLY CONCERNED with emergency dispatch says they’re happy with CalFire so three supervisors say, Let’s put this vital service out to bid where a mammoth outside corporation will snatch it up, and when we’re all at their mercy they will, of course, raise rates until….until they milked the Mendo cow dry and we’re left with Dixie Cups and long spools of thread as our emergency services communications system.
THE THINKING of the three privatizers seemed to be that since dispatch and ambulance is on the agenda we have to do it — why did McCowen even bring it up? We don’t want to think about it anymore. It’s a done deal and we prefer to keep it a done deal.
McCOWEN tried a last minute suggestion to put off the decision until Supervisor Dan Gjerde was present, but the Falck-loving Three wouldn’t hear of it.
WE COULDN’T HELP NOTICE two large men sitting next to each other in the audience, one wearing a Reach (air-ambulance) shirt (now owned by Junk Bond kings Kohlberg, Kravis, Roberts) and the other even bigger guy wearing a Falck shirt. The larger man seemed to be snoozing but the less large man was busily taking notes as the board considered McCowen’s proposal. Neither of the big boys spoke.
PREDICTION: FALCK, having created the problem that the Exclusive (Ambulance) Operating Area (EOA) is supposed to solve by butting into Ukiah uninvited, will low-ball their bid, get the EOA (and dispatch if they can package their bid to look like a bargain), skimp on services, generate complaints from hospitals, fire departments, the Sheriff, etc. (much like back in the Ortner Mental Health privatization days), receive the usual minimal oversight characteristic of Mendo’s civic operations, claim that they’re not being paid enough to continue with the contract, threaten to leave unless they’re paid more (with any alternative already driven out of business or out of the area), jack up their prices and continue skimping on services while cherry picking the most lucrative ambulance runs for themselves via their control over dispatch. And, with Coastal Valley EMS at their side, Falck will impose more difficult and costly service requirements on various rural public and private (volunteer) ambulance and emergency response agencies in inland Mendocino which may eventually force them into the Falck orbit.
UNDERSHERIFF RANDY JOHNSON said that he was very happy with Calfire dispatch, not only that but the Calfire dispatch facility on the Willits Grade was an important back up communications and dispatch center in the event that communications went down in the Ukiah Valley for Sheriff’s dispatch. Johnson also noted that since there will still be some form of fire dispatch, turning it over to a new player would just introduce another layer of possible confusion in already tense situations.
NONE OF THIS professional advice to hold off on privatizing Calfire Dispatch held any sway with the Falck Three Supervisors. We expect that by sometime in 2018 or early 2019 Mendo will start spelling F-A-L-C-K as O-R-T-N-E-R, but without even a Redwood Quality Management Company around to pick up the pieces. (Mark Scaramella)
ON LINE COMMENTS regarding Tuesday’s 3-1 Board of Supervisors vote to put both inland ambulance services and County-wide dispatch out to bid:
(1) re: FALCK. Why are the county supervisors so keen on outsourcing everything but their own jobs? Falck laid off almost its entire staff in Petaluma after they gobbled up a competitor. So now the current dispatchers, who are county residents and know the rural areas, will likely lose their jobs, too. Falck must have done some heavy romancing. I wonder how this came about. I’m glad you’re looking into it. I would like to hear a response from the board as to why they ignored safety personnel and why they are turning their backs on local workers yet again. We need new management who realizes that privatization of services is not the way to keep this county viable. They have paved the way to higher unemployment and higher costs for services again and no one seems to care. Sounds familiar, eh?
(2) The AVA is probably right on this one. But there has to be more to the story.
(3) Hard to believe we’re privatizing again, the smoke barely cleared from Ortner. We apparently need to make David Cay Johnston required reading for supervisors. (I think it was his book “Fine Print” that tells the story of municipal water being privatized in a California town — Boulder Creek, if I remember right — and how that fiasco played out. Not good, and there are many other examples in his book of similar privatization nightmares. You would think people would learn, but that appears to be a very slow process. All his books I highly recommend.) Anyway, kudos to Supervisor McCowen for resisting this madness.
(4) Croskey should have recused herself (actually she should resign) and they should have waited for Gjerde to participate in such an important issue. Smells like a back room deal to me, in other words, follow the money. Supervisors McCowen and, to a certain extent, Gjerde, seem to be the only ones who have the best interests of the residents of Mendo County at heart and are not rubber stamps. The Supervisors are never held accountable for their actions because they are secure in their reelectability. Exhibit A: Grand Jury findings that are critical of their decisions but are openly condemned and ultimately ignored. Maybe it’s time for DA Eyster to look into this and the Ortner debacle.