South County EMS to Join with Pride Care EMS

pride care
Robert Lohrberg, operations manager and Becki Russon, director of operations for Pride Care where at the Fire Authority board meeting in June.

By Sue Moore

The non-profit South County Emergency Medical Service (SCEMS) will sell itself to Pride Care EMS, one of three for-profit companies licensed to operate in Kalamazoo County. The decision, reached in a meeting with the South Kalamazoo County Fire Authority, guarantees that an ambulance and crew will continue to be housed in Vicksburg, retaining the current rapid response times to area communities.

“I’m excited that we finally have a decision for an emergency medical services provider in South County,” said Wes Schmitt, president of the board that owns and operates South County EMS. [Editor’s note: Schmitt also holds a position on the South County News board of directors.] “No matter which of the three possible providers may have been chosen, we will be OK,” Schmitt told the Fire Authority board. They eventually chose Pride Care from among the three companies contending to offer EMS services to South County.

Voting on the board at a meeting in mid-June began as a stalemate. Board members voted 3-3 on which outside provider would be acceptable. And there was debate about which should happen first: the sale of the South County EMS or renegotiation of the operating agreement with the firm which would buy the non-profit’s assets and liabilities. All three bidders had similar proposals. Schmitt said his board was willing to work out details of a sale with any of the three.

The Fire Authority for many years has contracted with the South County EMS board as the primary responder to emergency service calls. SCEMS in turn has sub-contracted for paramedic services, providing more advanced care, with Pride Care, one of the three bidders approved by Dr. William Fales, Kalamazoo County Medical Control Authority’s medical director. SCEMS employees provide entry-level medical care.

Life EMS and Pride Care EMS each had three votes on the first and second ballots. Several in the audience seemed to prefer Pride Care because it is currently working with SCEMS from its facility on N. Boulevard in Vicksburg. Randy Smith, Brady Township supervisor pushed for a decision that night due to the urgency of finding a replacement for South County EMS, in a precarious financial position.

Smith explained that the EMS board had not been able to make payroll the week before the meeting. That board had come to the Fire Authority in May to say that it would be impossible to move forward as a viable entity. Supporting Smith’s motion to go with Life in the 3-3 vote were Mike Tomlinson, Prairie Ronde township trustee, and Ken Hovenkamp, Schoolcraft township trustee. Opposed were Colin Bailey, Vicksburg village council trustee, Todd Carlin, Schoolcraft village council trustee and Jason Gatlin, Wakeshma township supervisor.

Once discussion took place, members of the audience showed a clear preference for Pride Care. Hovenkamp said he would change his vote in support of Pride Care. Life Care, the third provider who had presented a proposal, did not seem to be in the running during the voting. Following Hovenkamp’s change, the final vote was 4 -3 to go with Pride Care. Life Company had been the recommendation of the SCEMS board.

Once the decision was made, the Fire Authority board voted to leave the legal arrangement up to Schmitt and his board to sell the business to Pride Care. Once the Fire Authority is notified of the sale, a revised operating agreement with Pride Care will be a formality.

Schmitt told the authority board members none of the providers was willing to buy the SCEMS business unless the fire authority can say categorically it will approve whatever sale is approved by SCEMS.

Schmitt and his board will now meet with Pride Care to arrange the sale. Pride Care is offering to buy the mortgaged facility at 13396 Boulevard, purchase two vehicles bought new about two years ago and hire current employees. Pride Care also agreed to keep the name “South County Emergency Medical Services” on the vehicles. Pride Care will work with the Fire Authority to approve the revised operating agreement that includes maintaining the current response times to 911 calls and keep a physical presence at the current facility. It will also provide reports required by the Fire Authority.

Pride Care expressed a willingness to keep the deal in place well past the March 31, 2020 expiration of the Fire Authority’s current contract with SCEMS.

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