Effingham Co. (ECWd) -
We have learned over time when Freedom of Information Requests are not provided on key issues before a public body there tends to be something to hide. Such appears to be the case in Effingham County who is scheduled to vote on an ambulance contract for the County, which was never put out for bid nor even a request for proposals sought from ambulance companies.
A simple request for proposals (RFP) would have possibly squelched many of the concerns being shared with us on this deal, however, to date we get nothing but lip service as it relates to this new contract that, until we shared it with others last week, was being kept from the public.
Concerns being raised by the members of the public:
- Effingham County Board Chairman has family ties to the new Ambulance company which is why it was not put out for bid.
As it relates to the family ties, I asked the Chairman the following: "Is it true you have family ties to the Ambulance deal or the company that owns them? If so, have you shared that info with your other board members?"
Although the response provided claims the allegation of Abbott Ambulance being owned by investment firm HHK may be false (unconfirmed at press time), the question I raised has been confirmed. Joe Thies, the County Board Chairman's first cousin, does in fact work for Abbott Ambulance, the entity selected to receive the contract without any bidding or proposals requested from other agencies.
"Kirk, my first cousin, Joe Thies, works for both Dunn’s and Abbott ambulance services. I think he took the job with Abbott about a year ago. I haven’t spoken to him since a family gathering last fall, and I’m not sure if his status is full time with either or both services. We aren’t very close. I have shared this information with the board. As for family members having ties to the ambulance deal or the company that owns them, I’m including an exert from my press release that I will be sharing after the meeting today;"
From press release -Niemann:"There have been allegations that Abbott Ambulance is owned by investment firm HHK who also owns Air Evac life Team air medical service. Lawrence Thies is a base manager for Air Evac, and the uncle of County Board Chairman Jim Niemann. Abbott Ambulance is owned by American Medical Response who is owned by Envision which is a publicly traded company. HHK’s online portfolio does not show any ownership of Envision. The allegation is false.”
One part of the Chairman's response is troubling, but for reasons many have overlooked. "I haven’t spoken to him since a family gathering last fall". Our research and tips have confirmed he attended a family gathering almost a year ago where where the two are in the photo. So what is the concern? You know you have a family member working for the very agency you're going to contract with and you have not spoken with him in almost a year? You would think, since you're family, you would have some questions about the company he works for and a means of getting an inside scoop on matters, good or bad. But nope, in this case, the Chairman has stated he has not spoken with him.
- The Contract with Abbott is being done behind closed doors and they are not sharing information with the public.
So I aksed, "reading today's agenda, it appears you are going to act on this new contract yet we have not seen any statement showing how you got to the point you are at"?
Niemann: It will be released as soon as the meeting is over today. Parts of the agreement are being talked about between attorneys as I write this. I will release a statement once we have a completed deal.
Isn't that similar to what Nancy Pelosi said about the Affordable Health Care Act? We will tell you what's in it after we pass it?
- No other ambulance agnecies have been asked to provide their proposal.
Is it true that no other Ambulance agencies were contacted in order to compete for this business opportunity in the county?
Neiman: "That is addressed in the press release. The ambulance oversight committee vetted two ambulance services about 4 years ago, which is when this started. They made the recommendation to the board at that time to use Abbott, and that selection and resulting litigation and threats of litigation have lead us to where we are."
Convenient. A press release that won't be released until after the deal is done, which means the public has insuficient information from their elected officials to question the actions of these very officials. If the statement is true, there would be communications with this committee and the whopping "two" ambulance services they vetted 4 years ago! Does anyone else see concern with a claimed vetting process that is 4 years old?
My FOIA request, which is now past due, was clear. "A copy of all communications by the Ambulance committee and or County Board members with Ambulance agencies."
The fact they have failed to respond to that request tells me one of four possibilities. 1)They have something to hide, 2) they only have communicatoins with one ambulance agency, 3)the communications support the allegations of insider dealings, or 4) they have no records. If they have no records then why not respond to the request accordingly and avoid a FOIA lawsuit for vioalting FOIA?
The other two items in my reuquest, we believe, are going to be most interesting and like the request for communications, these two items have also not been responded to.
- A copy of the vetting process followed for the selection of an Ambulance service for the County.
- A copy of any evaluation/comparisons used to determine the best Ambulance service for the County.
I'm placing my bets on there not being ANY vetting process followed for the selection and if there was, there was not any evaluation/comparison used to determine the best ambulance service for the County. If it was done, where is it?
As if the illegal hiring of an attorney by this board and State's Attorney, covered in this article, is not troubling enough, the fact these people are not complying with our Freedom of Information Act should tell us all it's high time to think long and hard at your next election.
Having worked in Emergency Services a fair number of years, I can take one look at this whole process and tell you it stinks. Anyone working in EMS would question the lack of an RFP to ensure only the best was selected. The best based off an established scoring system used in an evaluation process. The claim of vetting two ambulance agencies 4 years ago tells me their selection process is outdated by at least three years. In addition, after speaking with numerous ambulance agencies, I have yet to find a single one that was asked anything about this business opportunity. Not saying it did not happen, but so far, I have yet to find a single one that was vetted and to date no one is sharing who these two claimed ambulance agencies were.
One part of the contract raised what I call a smoke screen.
"WHEREAS, the Agency declares as a matter of public policy that the exclusivity granted herein is necessary to maintain an economically feasible ambulance system and maintain reasonable charges for patients;"
If this exclusivity being granted is neccessary to maintain an economically feasible ambulance system and maintan reasonable charges for patients, who defines reasonable charges for patients? I ask because the contract we obtained states: "Contractor will be responsible for billing and collections for all Services provided by Contractor. Billing and settlement of claims will be at the sole discretion of Contractor......Contractor will bill at its usual and customary rates."
So how is it that this contract will maintain a feasible ambulance system and maintain reasonable charges for patients when that very element is left up to the sole discretion of the Contractor?
Not that Edgar County is a shining light on the hill, at least our County Board put their ambulance contract out for bid. It generated three responses, of which I would argue two of those were qualified providers.
Effingham County Board meeting to be held at 10 am, June 2nd, 2017, where they intend on voting to approve this contract.
Did we mention they cancelled the Ambulance Committee meeting and rescheduled for June 6th, 2017. A date "after" this questionable contract is voted on.