Ambulance service, county near settlement in monopoly lawsuit

The case stemmed from an ordinance passed in 2014, by the county board allowing companies beside Altamont Ambulance to provide non-emergency medical transport

By Graham Milldrum
Effingham Daily News

EFFINGHAM, Ill. — After wrangling for nearly three years in court, Effingham County and the ambulance service it contracts with have almost reached an agreement, officials announced Wednesday.

"We are pleased to announce a settlement in principle," said Eric Walter, the attorney for Altamont Ambulance.

That agreement takes effect after each side has signed off on it. The Effingham County Board has scheduled a special meeting at 3:30 p.m. Friday to vote on it, according to County Board Chairman Jim Niemann.

Neither side would reveal details of the proposed settlement on Wednesday.

The announcement was made after more than two hours of discussion involving attorneys for both sides, Judge Allan Lolie, and two representatives from both sides. Waiting to hear the resolution were members of the county board and five employees of the company.

Both sides deferred comment to their attorneys, who declined to reveal anything specific.

The case stemmed from an ordinance passed on Nov. 17, 2014, by the county board allowing companies beside Altamont Ambulance to provide non-emergency medical transportation in the county. The move would have eliminated the monopoly created in 2004, when the county board determined there was insufficient business to support more than one ambulance company.

The 2004 arrangement was necessary for the company to keep functioning, Altamont Ambulance argued in a lawsuit filed after the 2014 ordinance was passed.

County officials said they made the change based on concerns that residents were not receiving a proper level of care.

"According to the people on our side of the table who know about these things, our standard of care is woefully lacking compared to other counties," Niemann told the Effingham Daily News in December 2014.

The ordinance spurred a breach of contract claim by Altamont Ambulance, which also uses the name Effingham City-County Ambulance. A counter-claim filed by the county said the company had breached the contract by not providing an appropriate standard of care.

In the 2014 filing, the company wrote that the board "scrutinized Altamont Ambulance's performance of its services under the contract, including multiple threats to breach the contract in violation of Altamont Ambulance's rights." This came after the election of a new board and new appointments to the oversight board, the company wrote.

Many of those people had some sort of personal animosity toward the company or its president, Terry White, the complaint said.

The case from the county board listed a series of problems related to staff training, reports to the county and mechanical problems.

The county claims this led to employees working 100 or more hours a week, ambulances failing to start on emergency calls and ambulances carrying expired medication and medical equipment.

The lack of training also led to a delay during an emergency call to the courthouse, where ambulance employees were unaware of where the courthouse was, the county alleged.

Meanwhile, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration fined Altamont Ambulance $290,100 in July for various violations that ranged from lack of proper planning to unsafe electrical systems. The company has contested those fines. That case has not yet been settled.

Copyright 2017 the Effingham Daily News

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