Critique of PHD’s thoughtless reorganization of EMS | Letter

The San Juan Island Public Hospital District #1 recently announced a surprise reorganization of San Juan Island EMS. Chief Karl Kuetzing has been removed and the PHD Superintendent is now in charge of the agency.

The published announcement is a study in duplicity and profound ignorance of the nature of the day-to-day work of San Juan Island EMS. The wording of the press release indicates the PHD’s plan is to “figure this out” after the major reorganization without consideration of significant unanticipated consequences.

It is the current PHD, under Anna Lisa Lindstrum’s leadership, that has discarded all of the work done by the previous PHD board and the Citizen Advisory Group and has walked away from the Fire/EMS integration effort. The childish outrage incident during a recent meeting served as a flimsy excuse to cease all pretense of work on integration effort.

The removal of Kuetzing from his leadership position in the middle of the COVID crisis is staggering in the thoughtlessness, ignorance and self-serving motivation of the PHD. It is well known that the PHD was unhappy that Kuetzing and Chief Norvin Collins worked cooperatively to adopt a joint response model with both an ambulance crew and a fire crew (with at least one EMT on board the engine) responding to all pertinent medical emergency calls.

The replacement of Kuetzing with Pamela Hutchins, who has no experience whatsoever in the management of a first responder organization, looks, sounds and smells like retribution for working independently with the Fire District to provide a working COVID response model that puts community safety first.

The work of being a first responder is hazardous, stressful and unlike any other public service work. The suicide rate for first responders is significantly higher than for the general population. Our first responders need a stable, supportive organization and a leader who can work on the front lines and in the management chair at any given moment. This need has clearly escaped the PHD’s notice as has the safety of the public during the COVID emergency.

Francis G. Smith

Retired Sr. EMT & Fire Captain (25 years)