Submitted by Kyle Loring
SJC Public Hospital District No. 1 Commissioner
If you unfurled your June 17 Journal and read the piece about the Fire District, you’re probably trying to figure out why the Public Hospital District Commissioners would vote to pause EMS’ unofficial integration of operations with the Fire District. The integration described there makes sense. The article suggests that it would be more cost-effective, take care of personnel, and provide better service. But would it? We don’t know, because important details about integration remain unaddressed.
We do know that the integration being proposed is not the integration recommended by a Citizens Advisory Group in 2018. PHD commissioners have expressed support for the CAG’s integration. The CAG made seven “absolute conditions” of their recommendation to integrate. By the time I took office, though, at least three of those recommendations — a five-person board, fully cross-trained staff, and a five-year capital expenditure plan — appeared to have been discarded.
But other essential details haven’t been tackled and there’s been no plan to do so. In one of my first meetings as a PHD commissioner, I asked about a detailed plan for integration. Not the broader options identified by the CAG report, but a fine-tuned plan that identified the steps needed for the complex undertaking of integrating two public agencies. I was told a plan existed, only to later discover that it was a matrix with very few names and deadlines assigned to tasks. I asked about pre- and post-integration organization charts so that employees and the community could compare staffing. I asked about pre- and post-integration budgets so that I could explain to taxpayers how integration would achieve its presumed cost-efficiencies. I asked about the plan for the EMS building if the integrated agency deemed it surplus. Would the PHD taxpayers get stuck with the $700,000 bond for it? That’s a reasonable concern for an agency that had to carry the old inter-island medical center building for seven to eight years after it closed its doors.
So why did I vote to pause integration? Because we didn’t have answers to these fundamental questions, yet EMS was charging ahead with its integration of operations with Fire. The steering committee chaired by Fire Chief Norvin Collins had fizzled, and a pause would allow us to meet with Fire District leadership to chart a path forward.
Why did I feel compelled to respond to the piece in the Journal? To limit the continued spread of misinformation by the Fire District’s public relations campaign. That piece mistakenly suggested that an interlocal agreement would have begun merging EMS’ and Fire’s administrations (it wouldn’t have), that the PHD didn’t reach out to the Fire District (we did, and they responded almost two weeks before the deadline for the article), and that the PHD’s current chair served on the steering committee (she didn’t, until recently).
Ultimately, the Fire District may want to unilaterally wrest control of EMS away from the PHD — and taxpayers could vote to approve that — but my goal as a PHD Commissioner is to carefully explore integration and to continue to ask questions that must be answered before we can know if it will benefit our community. If you have thoughts, you can reach me at email@example.com.