The negotiations between San Juan Island EMS and the paramedic’s union is close to an end after a new contract was approved by the Public Hospital District Board of Commissioners during an executive session on Wednesday, May 25.
The new contract must still be signed off by the paramedics union before going into affect. If approved by both sides the two year contract will be made public and the 2016/2017 EMS budget will be revised to include any changes in employee wages and/or benefits.
“This was very, very hard for both management and labor,” said EMS Chief Jerry Martin of the union negotiations and pending contract. “But I believe it is an equitable and fair agreement.”
The board of commissioners also unanimously approved a motion to pay Island Air, Inc., who separated from EMS this April, for all outstanding invoices from January, February and March of this year. Payment for the invoices, totaling over $120,000 have been on hold pending a demand by EMS for further documentation detailing mileage flown by Island Air during flights contracted with EMS to provide air medical transport to the mainland, according to board members.
EMS is currently involved in an ongoing criminal investigation by the Attorney General to determine whether or not past transport billing was correctly reported.
“The investigation is looking into flights, mileage, etc.” said board chairman Bill Williams. “They’re going over all of that with a fairly fine toothed comb.”
In an attempt to ensure correct billing and to be in compliance should a financial audit occur in the future Martin required Island Air to provide further, in depth and detailed documentation of their mileage before making first quarter payments.The problem was that the documentation in question was not required in Island Air’s contract with EMS.
“We have an obligation to be fair to Island Air and to the taxpayers,” said Williams. “All payments except those requiring further documentation should be paid by June 1.”
Board member Monica Harrington agreed stating, “We should pay our bill because that’s what the contract requires,” she said. “We should work collaboratively with Island Air for further information.”
Also on the agenda was a proposal for a new use for the old Inter-Island Medical Center, still owned by the Hospital District. The building has been sitting empty since Peace Health Island Hospital was built in Friday Harbor and has been on the market for the past two years for just over one million dollars.
Gary Franklin, owner at Windermere Real Estate proposed turning the building, with it’s multiple rooms, into a seasonal housing unit for the island’s many summer employees who are desperate for rental options. Franklin, who runs Windermere’s property management business suggested turning the multiple rooms into dormitory type housing.
“We get calls everyday from seasonal employees looking for housing,” said Franklin. “And we have nowhere to put them.”
Franklin listed two vetted employers currently looking for housing for short term employees: Earthbox hotel and the Town of Friday Harbor’s recently hired construction crew who will spend four months this summer replacing the town’s water pipeline.
“I do appreciate there is a housing crisis in the community, but we can’t solve housing issues with the Public Hospital District,” said Harrington who voiced concerns over the project, including whether or not having renters in the building would increase or decrease the value to potential buyers and the legality of the situation.
Board member Michael Edwards provided a differing opinion stating that he spoke with attorneys on the matter who advised that it was within the hospital district’s legal prerogative to rent or lease the building to anyone that serves the community through any service, not just medically.
The board agreed to dive further into the proposal as soon as possible though the general feeling that the timeline of having the building ready to be rented this summer was impossible. According to the board the building would need to undergo cleaning, removal of old equipment, plumbing repairs and renovations to build a kitchen area and repair bathrooms. Contracts, insurance and legal issues would need to be looked at by attorneys before a decision could be made.