Antioch Rescue Squad, which became embroiled in controversy about a year ago, and Antioch village government are ending their longtime marriage in a dispute over contract length.
Village officials say they were surprised and upset to learn the rescue squad -- a privately operated, nonprofit entity -- declined a six-month extension to continue providing emergency medical services for Antioch residents and businesses. The rescue squad informed village officials that paramedic services would end July 1.
Antioch village board members agreed on the six-month offer rather than a one-year contract at a meeting Monday. Because the rescue squad rejected the six-month deal, the village decided to end the relationship June 1.
The rescue squad will continue serving unincorporated areas of Antioch Township, according to its chief, Brian DeKind.
Village board trustees have set an emergency meeting for Thursday to discuss administration recommendations so paramedic coverage will continue uninterrupted in Antioch.
Antioch Fire Department Chief John Nixon said it would involve hiring an outside contractor to initially provide ambulance and emergency medical technician service. Nixon said his department would oversee that company.
Nixon said the fire department would seek to upgrade its Illinois Department of Public Health license to allow it to transport patients in ambulances to eliminate the need for the outside contractor.
Village officials stressed in a statement Tuesday "the safety and health of residents will not be jeopardized in any way during the coming transition period."
DeKind said the village should not have been surprised the six-month contract offer was rejected. He said the rescue squad made it clear it wanted a one-year agreement when discussions were held with the village.
"It's a shame it has come to this when we are willing to continue to serve the entire Antioch community as we have for over 70 years with no burden on the taxpayers," DeKind said. "Our organization has been able to serve without impacting residents with a tax levy or collection for service. I don't think any alternative exists that will not cost the taxpayers of this community, and that's unfortunate."
Formed in 1940, the rescue squad uses mostly volunteers to provide emergency medical care 24 hours a day for the village and Antioch Township.
Problems surfaced in May 2012 when a sexual harassment lawsuit filed by three former members against several rescue squad colleagues and high-ranking officials came to light. Since then, two of the three women accepted settlement offers totaling $155,000 from the rescue squad.
Antioch Mayor Lawrence Hanson said in a statement he had "sadness and disgust" over the rescue squad's decision to reject the village's six-month offer.
"After all the village has done to support ARS as it worked its way through sex scandals, alcohol and drug abuse, ARS slapped its partners in the face," Hanson said.
State public health officials last year investigated ARS over unprofessional behavior involving squad members.
Accusations included mistreatment of patients, allowing employees to begin their shifts within hours of excessively drinking alcohol, and slipping medication in the food and drinks of fellow squad members.
State officials eventually imposed a $15,000 fine on Antioch Rescue Squad.
Village Administrator James Keim said that while the costs of shifting from the rescue squad are still being identified, the move isn't expected to affect taxpayers.
He said the budget "can tolerate a certain amount of contingency," and there shouldn't be any problems.