Antioch trustees gave themselves some breathing room this week to consider options for emergency medical service after approving a 90-day contract extension with the embattled Antioch Rescue Squad.
The action by a 4-1 vote gives village officials a chance to absorb a report by Village Administrator James Keim outlining how those services have been delivered and potential alternatives to the rescue squad.
It comes as the squad continues to work toward restoring its reputation, which Keim said was "significantly damaged" by recent events.
Those include a federal sexual harassment lawsuit filed by three female squad members and Illinois Department of Public Health allegations against emergency medical technicians and paramedics, including claims they had unauthorized access to prescription drugs and mistreated patients.
"It's a complicated issue. I'm sure (trustees) want to deliberate and fully understand all the ramifications of this EMS business," Keim said.
The private, nonprofit rescue squad was formed more than 70 years ago and uses volunteers and contract workers to provide emergency rescue services to residents in Antioch and Antioch Township.
Keim's 14-page report notes that recent events suggest the rescue squad could have shortcomings in its ability to provide the service, and those deficiencies could result in "both real and perceived liability" to the village and its residents.
In a comparison of several communities, Keim notes that the number of paramedics in Antioch appears "somewhat low" for the population. He reports concerns with the experience level of paramedics, suggests the turnover rate causes difficulty in retaining qualified people and notes the need for a well-established training program.
Accounting and the management structure of an organization formed in a different era are among the other concerns cited in the report. Keim said he expects improved management in the near term but expects the fire and rescue response to continue to be disjointed.
He recommends combining the fire and rescue operations under a unified command, a change that could take different forms.
"The village board needs to decide what is the model of EMS in the village of Antioch. On a basic level, they just have to decide how do they want this structured," Keim said.
Antioch Mayor Lawrence Hanson, whose vote in August broke a tie to approve an initial 90-day contract, said it will take time to determine the best path.
"It's very complex," said Hanson, who did not vote on the most recent extension.
He said any option has the same bottom line.
"It's about who's going to take care of the public," he said. "Are the people being tended to? That's the only thing we have to worry about."
For its part, the Antioch Rescue Squad recognizes mistakes have been made and is working to correct "critical problems" to provide a higher standard of care, according to a spokesman.
"Despite the recent problems and troubling publicity, ARS leaders and staff are committed to earning the confidence and goodwill of Antioch's residents," said Patrick Goodness, CEO of The Goodness Co., a public relations firm hired by the group.
"Over the coming weeks, community leaders will begin to witness the initial stages of a long-term transformation that will make Antioch proud of its dedicated rescue squad."