Ind. ambulance director to retire, 'tired of being political punching bag'
Board members shot down two grant requests to cross train medics and firefighters, and take out a line of credit for ambulance purchases
By Lou Mumford
South Bend Tribune
NILES, Ind. — It’s no secret why Tim Gray will retire on June 30 as director of the Southwestern Michigan Community Ambulance Service. He made that clear three months ago.
“I’m tired of being a political punching bag, basically … For the most part, it’s problems with Niles Township,’’ he said in a March 5 Tribune story.
One of six municipal owners of SMCAS, Niles Township is the largest in terms of population and size. With a more than 30 percent obligation should SMCAS default, township officials expressed concern earlier this year about back to back SMCAS audits revealing six-figure deficits.
But Gray said Wednesday his problems with the township began last year, when he and Niles city Fire Chief Larry Lamb sought support for a grant to determine the feasibility of cross-training SMCAS paramedics as firefighters and vice versa. Citing cost concerns, the township board voted unanimously to deny support for the grant.
The next month, the board rejected yet another SMCAS request, this one for an amendment that would have allowed the ambulance service to obtain a line of credit for capital purchases. Once again, board members expressed concerns about SMCAS’ financial situation.
But less than two weeks before his departure and the end of the SMCAS fiscal year, Gray points out the financial picture has brightened considerably. Having now eliminated some $700,000 in debt that had piled up over nearly a decade, the service is some $150,000 to $200,000 in the black, he said,
Gray blamed the debt on writes-offs that snowballed after the downturn in the economy, plus the growing number of Medicare and Medicaid patients transported by SMCAS. Reimbursement for Medicaid patients is just 26 cents on the dollar, he said, and stands at 54 cents on the dollar for those with Medicare.
But some issues still linger. One is how to resolve the situation with Pokagon and Milton townships, both of which contract for service with SMCAS and have voting rights on the SMCAS board but don’t share the liability of owner municipalities Niles and Buchanan cities and Niles, Buchanan, Bertrand and Howard townships.
Some member units like Niles Township have approved amending SMCAS articles of incorporation to allow Pokagon and Milton to retain voting rights until their service contracts expire, at which time they’d be required to buy-in as constituent members. The city of Niles has balked, however, and asked for clarification on the amount of the buy-in, Gray said.
Such problems didn’t prevent Brian Scribner, formerly the director of Life EMS Ambulance in Kalamazoo, from applying for and ultimately receiving Gray’s job. Selected from 25 applicants, he’ll receive a starting salary of $80,000 a year.
“When I saw the position was open, I did a lot of research. I saw some of the things that were going on but that generally means you’re dealing with a community that cares,’’ he said. “I’ll take a community that cares over one that’s apathetic any day of the week.’’
Gray, a Buchanan native who began his career at SMCAS 30 years ago and at 47 is the same age as Scribner, said he’s leaving Niles but not the health care field. He’ll move to Florida, he said, and look for work as a flight medic or possibly as a medic at an amusement park.
“It’ll be a fun job instead of dealing with politicians,’’ he said.
©2014 the South Bend Tribune (South Bend, Ind.)