All posts by justingibson

EMS and SKCFA in Discussions Over Finances

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Standing in front of the building that houses the South County EMS ambulances are left to right: Wes Schmitt, president of the South County EMS board; Vicki White, administrator EMS board; Lea Bailey, paramedic; Chris Koeneke, emergency medical technician.

By Sue Moore

When you feel the clutch of a heart attack or perhaps a stroke coming on, what do you do?

What you should do is call 911 to get medical attention as quickly as possible. Does it matter who comes to your aid? No. Just that they get to you quickly and let you live a while longer.

How quickly aid will come to residents in the Vicksburg, Schoolcraft, Scotts, Climax and Fulton areas is about to be an issue.

Those 911 calls for the last two decades have been answered by South County Emergency Medical Services (SCEMS), a nonprofit organization. It is run by a local board of directors and staffed by local area licensed emergency medical technicians (EMT) and paramedics.

In the rest of Kalamazoo County, those services are supplied by three for-profit companies: Life, Life-Care and Pride ambulance services. They and South County EMS are the only providers licensed to operate in this area.

Wes Schmitt, president of the SCEMS board (disclaimer: Schmitt is also secretary and treasurer of the South County News), appeared at the South Kalamazoo County Fire Authority meeting in May to reveal the precarious financial position of his EMS operation. He outlined the need for financial support to continue going forward, saying that it couldn’t continue to operate for much longer under the contract it has with the fire authority.

Authority chair Jason Gatlin referred the matter to his board’s financial committee which will meet and review the request. He did not indicate if there would be a quick decision.

“All of our revenue is received from reimbursements from Medicaid, Medicare or private insurance. A small amount of revenue comes from memberships and grants,” Schmitt told the authority board. “The South County Emergency Services Board feels our current operation best serves our local citizenry. It is our intention to pursue every avenue possible for financing our operations. One of these avenues is financing from the SKC Fire Authority.”

“We feel this upcoming fire authority decision is so important that we are going to begin a public notification of our current status, so that each citizen can provide elected officials with input as to what they feel will best serve them and what cost are they willing to incur,” Schmitt said.

He said that all ambulance services have been impacted by the Affordable Care Act. It has significantly increased the number of Medicaid clients in Michigan. Also, increased life expectancy has expanded the number of Medicare clients.

But repayment of actual costs has not kept up with the reimbursement received for billed services. For South County, the write-off of non-collectible debt in 2016 has increased from 20 percent a few years ago to over 45 percent. To offset these losses, SCEMS contracts for paramedics with Pride Care, and pays its EMT’s at the low end of the local industry average to keep benefit costs under control, Schmitt said.

The saving grace in April, 2016 was a patient transfer program the ambulance service began with Borgess Hospital. This helped because the insurance companies’ payment helps to offset the costs of the 911 calls.

But that changed on April 1, 2017, when Borgess switched to Pride Care to provide all transfers. Schmitt said he was taken aback and did everything in his power to reverse that decision. He was successful; South County will resume participation with Borgess beginning in July 2017. But the lag in billing income is significant; it won’t be realized for another 90 days. In the meantime, Schmitt and the South County board say they need support from the Fire Authority.

He went on to list the outstanding obligations of the EMS board. The ambulance debt is approximately $130,000 with the two vehicles easily worth that amount, he said. This debt is held by Arbor Credit Union. Debt on the building housing the ambulances behind the hospital is approximately $205,000. While the building is appraised at approximately $350,000, the building’s usefulness is limited. This debt is held by Kalamazoo County State Bank.

The financial future is up to the Fire Authority board, comprised of one representative from the townships of Wakeshma, Brady, Schoolcraft and Prairie Ronde and the villages of Vicksburg and Schoolcraft.

These entities have choices too, according to Randy Smith, Brady Township supervisor. They could choose to contract with the other ambulance services in the county.

Or the Fire Authority could rescue SCEMS through a contract for services, Schmitt said.

But the communities would want to know if response times would be the same or worse, Smith insisted. They would want to know if their costs be the same or more. “We need to find all of that out before we can move forward. We can’t just give them money, that would be illegal. SCEMS needs cash now. Government doesn’t do cash now,” Smith said.

SKCFA Firefighters Commendation

The Portage Department of Public Safety Fire Division recently cited the South Kalamazoo County Fire Authority (SKCFA) for assistance in locating a lost hunter in the Gourdneck State Game area in November. “This was an exceptional example of outstanding work and great cooperation between several area agencies,” Daniel Mills, Portage’s acting public safety director, wrote to Chief Tracy McMillan.

South County Fire was called to assist with finding a deer hunter who was lost and stuck in the mud while walking along the north side of Sugar Loaf Lake. South County firefighters responded with two firefighter-owned ATV’s and assisted Portage firefighters in the search. Multiple firefighters were shuttled to and from the search area by the ATV’s through the mud, water and snow, lessening the physical stress on the firefighters. The hunter was found by firefighters and freed from the mud. He was treated and released at a local medical facility later that evening, McMillan said.

Schoolcraft Moving to Prevent Water Contaminations

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The Schoolcraft village council members in session in May from left to right: Faith Akert, clerk/treasurer; Kathy Mastenbrook, trustee; Sy Spears, trustee; Russell Barnes, trustee; Keith Gunnett, president; Mike Rochholz, trustee, John Stodola, trustee; Todd Carlin, trustee; Cheri Lutz, village manager.

By Brian Freiberger

The village of Schoolcraft in May took steps to prevent contamination of the village’s water system with tentative approval of a cross-connection control plan required by the state Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ).

The ordinance would require periodic inspections of village properties to ensure that contamination doesn’t enter the village water supply. It focuses on “high-hazard” businesses such as car washes and mechanical shops and restaurants but extends to all water users.

In May, 2016, the village contracted with HydroCorp for a three-year period to conduct cross-connection testing. HydroCorp is a cross-connection and backflow prevention company for communities and businesses across North America. The village is working with the company’s Troy, Mich. office.

The village plan was submitted to the DEQ from HydroCorp and was given to the Village Council in April. The final plan was submitted to the Council in early May, given tentative approval later in the month and was to be presented for final approval on June 5.

A cross-connection is any connection between a public water system or a consumer’s water system and a source containing non-potable water or other substances, making it possible for those substances to enter the water system.

Cross-connections have resulted in numerous cases of illness and death, according to the cross-connection pamphlet prepared by the state Department of Public Health.

Cross-connection controls aim at preventing two sources of contamination: “back-siphonage” and “backpressure backflow.” Back-siphonage results from a vacuum in a water system caused when system pressure drops so low that an attached pipe such as a garden hose or laundry tub hose can suck contaminated water or other liquids back into the water system. This can happen when there is a break in the water main or a heavy water use nearby such as fighting a fire. Back pressure backflow can occur from back pressure caused by a downstream pressure greater than that of the water supply which can push contaminated water back into the water system. Downstream pumps or boilers are sometimes causes of backflow.

Inspections for high hazard non-residential customers will be inspected in the first year. Other non-residential customers will be inspected in the second year. Ten percent of residential customers will be inspected yearly.

At homes, installation of a hose faucet vacuum breaker can prevent back-siphonage and provide protection of the homeowner’s and village’s systems. This means equipping each outside hose connection outside or in the basement or laundry room with a simple device costing less than $10 at a hardware store.

Questions concerning cross connection flow and backflow prevention can be directed to the Michigan Department of Public Health, Division of water supply at 517-335-9216, the Michigan Department of Labor’s plumbing division at 517-322-1804 or the village Water Department.

Schoolcraft Graduation

Photos by Stephanie Blentlinger, Lingering Memories Photography.

Graduation: A Rite of Passage

2014-12-18 07.40.43By Steven Fryling

So we find ourselves once again in “graduation” season; a time when young people are excited and anxious about what is to come and the older among us wistfully consider the scope of a person’s life and what these things mean, often while sitting under a canopy in a backyard somewhere, munching on ham sandwiches and graduation cake.

So what does a “graduation” mean?  Nowadays, schools have graduations anywhere from preschool or kindergarten graduation to middle and high school graduation, to college graduation, as well as graduation from various programs or activities. I have heard retirement referred to as a graduation. Perhaps at these events, a gold watch is the substitute for a diploma. At a recent funeral for a relative, I was told she “graduated” to the next level as well.

Perhaps it is best not to think of the idea of graduation as a ceremony and more as a rite of passage, a milestone or reflection point in life. As an educator for 33 years, I have seen many of my colleagues retire, which happens at the same time as high school graduation. I have observed with them that these times are like the “bridges” in life; you are on the highway and you go over a bridge, but it is at the bridge you look out the car window and admire the view. While most of the days of a life are filled with seeing just what is ahead on the road in front, a bridge invites you to look from side to side and say, “what a great ride.”

Being an educator, I have heard more graduation speeches than I care to count. I even gave one once. I always like Charlie Glaes’ speeches, delivered at Vicksburg’s graduation. While typical remarks note what is ahead and behind the graduates, Charlie also makes us look from “side to side” as the students cross the bridge and helps us enjoy the ride.  I have noted that he makes similar remarks at retirement ceremonies, which I find fitting.

Let’s face a fact; high school graduation and a diploma no longer mean what they used to mean. When I was a kid in the 70s, graduation was, for many, the last stop on the journey in formal education. Folks went on to work at Upjohn and Fisher Body and Continental Can (none of which exist anymore). Today, high school graduation is a place where many young people figure out that they are only part way to the goal of sustainable employment and the “American dream” lifestyle; it is simply a first step toward a degree or training in certificate, or the military, or a trade school or apprenticeship.

So what’s the takeaway here? In our culture where we have no ceremonial rite of adulthood (unless you are Jewish, Hispanic or Native American), we often thrust high school graduation into this role. To me, this time of year for many 17-19 year olds serves a mighty purpose. While it no longer declares students ready to enter most job fields, it does demand that we all step back, look side to side, and admire the only journey that we are ever going to be on.

Vicksburg Graduate Honors

Here are some selected photos highlighting the academic achievements of Vicksburg’s graduating seniors.