At its meeting on Aug. 26, the San Juan County Public Hospital District Commission forced the resignation of Interim San Juan Island EMS Chief Karl Kuetzing, the best EMS Chief the agency has had in several years.
A motion for EMS reorganization was passed, with no public discussion. Kuetzing was offered a demotion to be the director of EMS operations, and Pamela Hutchins, the Hospital District’s lay administrator was put in charge of EMS, with a hefty pay raise, made available by Kuetzing’s planned demotion.
This action leaves SJI EMS rudderless, with no qualified leader, and 21 EMTs have since sent a letter of no confidence to the PHD Commissioners.
After the meeting, one of the commissioners publicly accused a distinguished former Sr. EMT of lying, because he objected to the commission’s action in a letter he posted in the Journal.
The root cause of this leadership crisis is the squabbling over the proposed merger of San Juan Fire and SJI EMS, and the notion that Kuetzing got too close to SJI Fire by agreeing to a mutual rescue response to provide comprehensive emergency services during the COVID crisis.
Two years ago, leaders of both agencies agreed to work together to merge, streamline operations and provide the unified command and control that is essential to the good order of any first responder organization. Such is the norm in most other communities.
Since then, leaders in both agencies have behaved badly, once again destabilizing SJI EMS, despite its excellent staff of paramedics, EMTs and volunteers who just want to take care of their community.
To the Commissioners of both agencies — it may be too late to save your reputations, but it is not too late to save EMS and move forward with the merger. Otherwise, the next EMS financing levy, required by 2022, will fail — and our hallowed EMS agency will lose the opportunity to merge and grow with San Juan Island Fire and Rescue.
Loren Johnson, MD