State terminates their contract with UP EMS
As of October 1st, the State of Michigan will have officially terminated their contract with UP EMS. A little over a month ago, UP EMS was notified their contract with the Department of Health and Human Services in Lansing would not be renewed. Though UP EMS will continue to exist, it now has a large financial burden since the contract provided a substantial part of their budget.
"The UP EMS board has already said that they're going to try and find ways to stay active, stay involved, and look for other sources of funds or grants, because the need and the reason for UP EMS is still there," said Bob Struck, the Executive Director of UP EMS.
"The department has determined that the method that we've operated with for the last 35 years in the Upper Peninsula, no longer fits the mold for all of Michigan," said John Kivela, Democratic State Representative for Michigan's 109th district. "So, they're planning on terminating the contract and going with someone from downstate and it's just unacceptable."
The state says the contract termination is due to a need for unification of how emergency services are provided throughout the state. However, many feel the UP needs its own process due to how rural it is, and how emergency responders are forced to drive long distances to get patients the help they need.
"In my perspective, it doesn't make sense because you can't have Michigan all be consistent with it comes to EMS requirements," said Struck. "Certainly it's not good for the urban areas either. They have certain needs that are specific to their areas that we don't have to deal with. But similarly, the rural areas should not have to conform to urban solutions because a lot of times they aren't our problems."
Another concern has surfaced regarding how EMTs will receive the training they need if resources like UP EMS's annual EMS Conference is forced to stop. It happens to be the largest EMS conference in the state, and its training sessions are imperative for many EMT groups in the UP that are made up primarily of volunteers.
"If the conference goes away, first responders are going to have to find training elsewhere, if they find it at all," said Struck. "Consequence of that is people lose their license, or at the worst, certainly are not well-trained, and don't have the information that this conference provides. It will be tougher all over for EMS and it'll be tougher for all the communities in the Upper Peninsula."
There's also suspicion about whether the contract termination is truly for unification, or if it's due to UP EMS's Executive Director speaking out against the department's demands of rural first responders.
"Bob Struck has been pretty vocal in the EMS world as far as rural Michigan," said Senator Tom Casperson, of Michigan's 38th District. "Bob's been a champion for them and stood up for them, and where he's disagreed with the department he's let it be known. The fear is that, because of speaking up, that may have caused some heart burn where the department's concerned. I can't justify one way or the other, because I don't have all the facts, but I can tell you that the timing and everything else is suspect."
Senator Casperson and Representative Kivela say they plan to meet with the Director of the Department of Health and Human Services in a remote location of the UP to demonstrate the conditions UP paramedics work in.
Though the UP EMS Conference that began Friday will continue through the weekend, its future is uncertain.
If you would like to voice your opinion about the contract termination, Struck says to contact the Department of Health and Human Services in Lansing. Another way to lend a hand is to contact your local first responder or local ambulance groups and find out what help they may need.