ELY- The Ely-Bloomenson Community Hospital (EBCH) will no longer contribute to the Ely Area Ambulance Service (EAAS) until certain changes are made in the struggling service. That bombshell …
ELY- The Ely-Bloomenson Community Hospital (EBCH) will no longer contribute to the Ely Area Ambulance Service (EAAS) until certain changes are made in the struggling service. That bombshell announcement came in the form of an April 13 letter from EBCH CEO Patti Banks. Donations from EBCH form a significant source of funding for the ambulance service.
EBCH distributed copies of the letter to the four communities that support the Ely ambulance. The cities of Ely and Winton and the townships of Morse and Fall Lake fund and govern the spending of the ambulance through the Ely Area Ambulance Joint Powers Board (EAAJPB).
As reported in the May 5 edition of the Timberjay, a copy of this letter was included in the agenda packet for the May 2 Ely City Council meeting. The letter’s existence was noted but the city council did not discuss it on May 2.
While the EBCH is not a voting member of the EAAJPB, the hospital has historically contributed tens of thousands of dollars every year to the service. Yet, “pursuant to direction given by the hospital’s board of directors,” Banks stated that the hospital won’t be contributing any more under the current circumstances.
Letter cites concerns
The letter from Banks cited concerns about the governance and operation of the ambulance service, as well as poor communication, as the factors that prompted the hospital’s decision to halt ambulance funding. “EBCH has had concerns related to EAAS operations for approximately one year. Communication has been inconsistent and almost non-existent,” she wrote.
The letter proposes discussions with the ambulance service, either to acquire “the license, assets, and operations of the ambulance service,” or to form a contract between EBCH and EAAS “setting forth the governance and operational changes that the hospital would need to see at EAAS in order to feel comfortable enough to resume donating cash to EAAS.”
Banks told the Timberjay that she originally intended to deliver the letter at the April 13 meeting of the EAAJPB but that an opportunity did not arise during the meeting to do so.
Banks had raised her concerns about communication at the April 13 EAAJPB meeting.
At the time, Banks commented that other personnel of the hospital should be sitting in the meetings with EAAS other than herself, including the chief nursing and medical officers. She also stated that “meetings (should) be scheduled regularly as they were done in the past.”
The discussion then stalled as EAAJPB chair and Winton Mayor Marlene Zorman moved the meeting onto the next agenda item, stating, “That makes sense, but basically, that’s something between the hospital and the ambulance service. We can touch on it here but let’s move (on).”
Banks also remarked that there were other issues with the EAAS that EBCH was uncomfortable over. A partial list of these items included:
• The lack of a 2023 budget despite being almost halfway through the year.
• The lack of a financial audit until some yet-to-be-announced time this summer.
• Mixed messaging over bill payment and accounts between the EAAS and EAAJPB as evident from discussions at EAAJPB meetings.
• An overlap with some members of the EAAJPB and the EAAS.
• Extended longevity of some EAAS board members.
Banks told the Timberjay, “EBCH’s past practice was to meet at least monthly with the Executive Director from EAAS to review patient care policies and best practices, talk about any rumors or employee relations concerns and to work through problems. The EBCH representative on EAAS’s Board of Directors gave perspective to the governance of the service.”
Then COVID-19 arrived. “The pandemic led to the need to change meeting schedules and methods for everyone,” Bank said. “As an example, the former director would sometimes meet virtually or over a phone call.”
Meetings during the pandemic went sideways. The EAAS also brought a new executive director onboard, who did not keep up with meetings like his predecessor. According to Banks, the new director also did not reestablish the regular meeting schedule when pandemic crisis conditions were lifted.
Potential $62,500 loss
What’s at stake in the hospital’s decision are tens of thousands of dollars. Ely, Winton, Fall Lake and Morse have all contributed to the EAAS, but so has the EBCH. According to Ely Clerk-Treasurer Harold Langowski, the four communities of the EAAJPB would need to greatly increase their funding of the EAAS to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars to make up for the loss of EBCH support.
The loss in revenue could further exacerbate the ongoing financial losses for the ambulance service.
Banks explained what EBCH has given the EAAS over the years: “The last monetary donation given was $62,500. This was the highest amount that the hospital was asked to give. EBCH has given monetary donations since the inception of EAAS. EBCH has provided space, discounted supplies, various staffing support over the years as well.”
The Timberjay reached out to EAAS chair Chuck Novak, who stated that the service had no comment at this time. Novak said the board had not yet had a chance to discuss the letter and that it was on the agenda for the EAAS board meeting this week.
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