By: John Zippert,
On Thursday, November 12th, the Greene County Commission held a special meeting to consider concerns with the operation and governance of the Greene County Ambulance Service.
The meeting was called to respond to concerns raised by Dr. Marcia Pugh, CEO of the Hospital, who was appointed to represent the Commission on the Board of Directors of the Ambulance Service. In an earlier Commission work session, Dr. Pugh voiced concerns over the fact that the Board of the Ambulance Service was not holding regular meetings, not having financial reports, and generally operating in an unaccountable manner.
The Ambulance Service director moved its operational office from the Eutaw City Hall to the former Warrior Academy building without consultation and approval by the its Board of Directors. Members of the County Commission, including new Chair Roshonda Summerville, members Lester Brown and Corey Cockrell also said they were unaware that the Ambulance Service had moved from City Hall.
Louis Jines, Chair of the Ambulance Board explained that the Board of Directors had not been meeting because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Commissioner Cockrel asked, “has the Board considered virtual meetings by phone or zoom”. Jines answered that the Internet service in his home area near Forkland was inadequate for virtual meetings.
Walter Staples, a military veteran serving on the Ambulance Board said, “Since I have been on the Board our role was to maintain the vehicles and medical supplies. We don’t have enough money coming in to require a budget.”
Dr. Pugh also indicated that the Ambulance Service had not picked up a patient recently from the Nursing Home who needed to be transported to Tuscaloosa for medical testing.
Nick Wilson, Director of the Ambulance Service said he was overwhelmed with other cases that day and was not able to pick up the person because it was not an emergency call. Wilson also questioned whether it was appropriate to air these complaints in a Greene County Commission meeting.
Commissioner Brown said the Commission would likely be sued if there was a serious problem and someone decided to sue the Ambulance Service.” Your board must meet, function and make decisions, follow your by-laws and act legally to avoid bringing complaints and lawsuits against the Ambulance Service and County Commission,” explained Brown.
Dr. Pugh said, “This is why the board needs to meet, review finances and policies and resolve problems before they are brought to the County Commission.”
Nick Martin and deputy chief, Zack Bolding, expressed some frustration with the process. “The County Commission gives the Ambulance Service only $28,000 toward our budget. We have had to raise money from other sources and private donors. In the 15 months that I have been director, no one from the County Commission has come to visit us at City Hall or Warrior Academy,” said Wilson.
Commission Brown said, “If you hold Board meetings, like your by-laws require and you invite us, we will come. Two of us can come at a time. We invited you to a budget meeting and a working session to discuss the problems but you did not come.”
The Commission’s counsel, Attorney Hank Sanders referred the Ambulance Board to its by-laws, “You have two members appointed by the Chair of the Commission, two members appointed by the City of Eutaw, and one each from the Towns of Forkland, Boligee and Union. All these political entities just had elections and the Mayors and the Commission Chair have the right to name your Board members. You need to check with them, get your board appointments and reorganize and operate properly under your by-laws.”
Attorney Sanders further advised that, “Your by-laws provide for the Ambulance Board to make an annual report to the Commission and the public, at the end of each fiscal year, on your contracts, leases, association memberships, finances, capital and operating budgets; major activities; compliance with local, state and federal regulations; and a statement of goals and objectives for the next year.”
The special meeting ended on a note of unity that the Ambulance Board would meet, reconstitute itself, discuss problems and plans and report back to the Commission and municipal entities with a clearer picture of its goals and needs for the future.