Ill. ALS ambulance service closes suddenly

Thirty medics and EMTs out of work after Ill. village board votes to end ALS ambulance service and contract with not-for-profit service


By Scott Hilyard
Journal Star

PEORIA HEIGHTS, Ill. — The Advanced Life Support ambulance service that the village proudly unveiled on Oct. 6, 2009 -- the only one of its kind in Peoria County -- was eliminated Tuesday evening with a somberly rendered 5-0 vote of the Village Board.

The department's end finally proved that the Village Board had created an ambulance service it could not sustain. And because of that, 30 people lost their jobs at 8 p.m. Tuesday, 30 minutes after the board vote.

"It's difficult to accept," said Brennan Kennedy, one of two full-time paramedics in the department. He was cleaning out his ambulance in a hurry to meet the 8 p.m. deadline. "I'm out of work, but I also feel the board had no other option."

Only two people spoke in support of keeping the ambulance service, one being Peoria Heights Fire Chief Greg Walters.

After dissolving the ambulance department, the board next approved an unspecified contract with Advanced Medical Transport of Central Illinois, the not-for-profit service that operates in Peoria, Pekin, Chillicothe and other communities. The service was to begin responding to Peoria Heights emergency calls at 8 p.m. Tuesday, according to Kennedy.

"We do not take this lightly," Mayor Mark Allen told the audience, made up mostly of men and women from the ambulance service.

Board trustees publicly lamented the need to eliminate the service, but whatever discussion the board had to reach its unanimous conclusion was not done in open session Tuesday night. The board went into executive session to meet on personnel issues, a legal reason for a closed session under the state's open meetings laws, returned to open session, then dissolved the ambulance department and hired a new provider.

The reason for the dissolution was clear. The department was costing the village's general fund $200,000 a year. The action came one month after voters in Peoria Heights rejected a proposed property tax increase to fund the ambulance service. The nonbinding proposition was defeated by a tally of 652 yes votes, or 41.4 percent, to 924 no votes, or 58.6 percent. If the tax had passed, village residents could have seen an increase of $60.13 in the real estate tax on a home with a fair market value of $100,000, or about $5 a month.

"We've been struggling to figure out a way to minimize the yearly deficit," said Trustee Matthew Fuller before Tuesday's meeting. Fuller is the chairman of the board committee that oversees the ambulance department "We never expected to 'break even,' but simply provide a service that wouldn't deplete the village coffers. I think (Peoria Heights Police) Chief (Dustin) Sutton did a remarkable job minimizing costs and expanding revenue, and yet, with our call volume, we were unable to attain viability."

The contract with AMT comes at no cost to the village. AMT typically charges customers, not municipalities.

In 2009, Peoria Heights became the first city or village in Peoria County to offer Advanced Life Support ambulance service. Advanced Life Support, unlike Basic Life Support, staffs its ambulances with paramedics who have a higher level of training and can perform more medical procedures than Emergency Medical Technicians. The department covered the village 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Losing their jobs Tuesday were two full-time paramedics, 18 part-time paramedics and 10 to 12 part-time Emergency Medical Technicians.

Most of the crowd left after the contract with AMT was approved. Wearing a Heights Ambulance ball cap and jacket, Kennedy sat slightly slouched in his chair in the third row with his lips tightly clenched. As the room emptied and the new library director addressed the board about upcoming seasonal events at the library, Kennedy got up and walked to his ambulance to begin the fast task of cleaning it out.

Copyright 2014 Journal Star (Peoria, Ill.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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