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Texas officials fire EMS director over lack of volunteers, OT costs and responding to calls

Jeff Davis County EMS Chief Peggy Fonseca was escorted out of the courthouse over what she called a “witch hunt” about staffing and leadership


Jeff Davis County Ambulance/Facebook

By Bill Carey

JEFF DAVIS COUNTY, Texas — Jeff Davis County EMS Chief Peggy Fonseca was fired by the county commissioners and escorted out of the courtroom by law enforcement on May 14, following a period of political discord over EMS staffing and budget concerns.

At Fonseca’s request, her employment was publicly debated in the commissioners’ court meeting. Commissioners Roy Hurley and Royce Laskoskie challenged her leadership, leading to a vote to terminate her. Hurley, Laskoskie, Jody Adams and John Davis voted for dismissal, while County Judge Curtis Evans opposed it, The Big Bend Sentinel reported.

“It’s been a long time coming,” Laskoskie told Marfa Public Radio. “There have been budget overruns - not just this year but last year also - and the county, after doing some math, doesn’t have the funds to continue at that rate of drain, so something had to be done.”

“It was a witch hunt, that’s all it was,” Fonseca said. “That witch hunt is going to cost them the loss of a service for a community that will never get it back.”

Fonseca was hired in 2022 to lead the volunteer-run Jeff Davis County Ambulance after EMS Director Vicki Fowler retired. Under her leadership, the county faced challenges in retaining EMS volunteers and shifted to a “hybrid” model of volunteers and paid staff, including Fonseca.

She quickly started hiring paid EMTs and paramedics, engaged in county-wide healthcare initiatives like proposing a federally qualified healthcare center and expanded telehealth services. She also volunteered as the county’s emergency management coordinator.

Fonseca’s employment was scrutinized by concerned citizens and county officials, including Laskoskie, after she received a violation notice in October 2023 from the Texas Department of State Health Services for not providing life-saving measures to a cardiac arrest victim. She disputed the violation and settled with DSHS by agreeing to complete three, one-hour continuing education courses, maintaining her county employment throughout the legal proceedings.

Recently, the EMS budget faced overruns from employee overtime. The court increased funding to ensure employee payments continued, but this became a contentious point during discussions about Fonseca’s employment.

Fonseca explained that the budget issues arose from a decline in volunteerism over the past five months, with many leaving due to personal reasons, necessitating greater reliance on paid staff. She also noted that volunteer shortages predated her tenure and that the department is currently handling a high volume of calls.

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“The EMS wheels are still going round and round. We’re still making calls. We’re still very busy. I cannot give you what I don’t have,” Fonseca said. “The whole reason people volunteer is they volunteer when they have time to give to the community.”

Fonseca also highlighted regional recruitment challenges for EMTs, noting that surrounding counties offer significantly better pay for similar positions.

“Where we pay $11.50 an hour, they’re paying $15, $16, and that’s for the lowest guy on the totem pole,” she said.

Commissioner Hurley criticized Fonseca for personally responding to ambulance calls, to which she replied it was necessary due to staffing shortages. He also mentioned that volunteers left because they disapproved of her leadership.

“I’ve met with the volunteers too, and they’ve all said they left because of you and your leadership and your policies,” Laskoskie said. “They all said the minute you are gone they will be happy to come back to work.”

Fonseca responded to volunteer objections by stating that she was merely enforcing state policies, ensuring ambulances were properly inspected and patient reports were completed.

Following the meeting, Laskoskie moved to terminate Fonseca. He then requested law enforcement to accompany her to her office to gather her personal items and return keys and county property.

Judge Evans expressed uncertainty about maintaining EMS operations but mentioned he is collaborating with staff to devise a solution and determine whether any volunteers who expressed interest in returning will do so.

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