LOCAL

Ambulance service concerns surface again

Robert Smith
Pawhuska Journal-Capital

Osage County commissioners received comments Jan. 9 regarding ambulance service for rural communities, and briefly engaged in discussion among themselves regarding potential improvements.

Nona Roach, who lives in Avant, provided comments to the Board of County Commissioners regarding two recent incidents in which she believed ambulance service that the county helps to pay for had been substandard. One of the incidents reportedly involved an ambulance sitting near Roach’s home rather than proceeding to the location from which an emergency call had been made. Roach said more than once that she feared the poor quality of ambulance service could lead to a death at some point.

Avant and Barnsdall receive ambulance care from Miller EMS on a contract basis. County government pays a portion of the cost. This arrangement dates back nearly five years. The two communities are located in District 1 for purposes of representation on the Board of County Commissioners.

Everett Piper, who took office Jan. 3 as the new District 1 commissioner, said he had talked with the mayor of Avant, and had also visited the Sheriff’s Office to learn about dispatch operations.

Laura Teague, interim city manager for Pawhuska, also commented, emphasizing a need for more collaboration on the subject of rural ambulance service.

Charlie Cartwright, who took office Jan. 3 as the new District 3 commissioner, said there had already been discussions (before he and Piper took office) regarding the possible creation of a board or committee to examine the subject of ambulance service in detail.

Assistant District Attorney Ashley Kane suggested that the Board of County Commissioners should choose one of its members to act for the group regarding ambulance service improvements, to avoid potential Open Meetings Act problems.

Piper suggested that Cartwright might take that responsibility.

“I’d be honored to do it,” Cartwright said. He served on the town board of Fairfax until half an hour before being sworn in as a county commissioner, and he has recent experience dealing with ambulance service difficulties. Cartwright also continues to serve on the board of the privately owned hospital in Fairfax.

OUTSIDE COUNSEL AGREEMENTS APPROVED

In other business Jan. 9, the Board of County Commissioners approved outside counsel agreements for Sheriff Eddie Virden and County Clerk Robin Slack with Steve Money Law. The District Attorney’s Office generally provides legal advice for county officials, which saves on legal services expenses.

Cartwright asked Slack if any money spent on outside legal advice for her office would come out of her budget. She said that it would. Cartwright also asked Slack if the potential legal expense would “damage” her budget. She said that it would not. Slack said she wanted an outside lawyer mostly in reference to the courthouse annex project.

County resident Jerry Butterbaugh said during the public comment period that he could think of circumstances in which the sheriff might need an outside lawyer, but he could not think of circumstances in which the clerk would need her own outside lawyer.

Butterbaugh suggested the county commissioners could encourage a public accounting for any taxpayer funds spent on outside lawyers.