Changes planned for troubled Antioch Rescue Squad

Board president among officials on their way out

The Antioch Rescue Squad board of directors will be replaced and other changes implemented under a plan of correction the troubled squad has sent to the Illinois Department of Public Health.

Board President Steve Smouse will be ousted, along with Treasurer John Edgell and Secretary Patrick Chostner, Smouse confirmed Wednesday. They will be replaced by three directors who are neither affiliated with the squad nor public officials in Antioch Township, the plan states. It also calls for the board to be expanded to seven members, with the other four filled by the rescue squad officials: the chief, the deputy chief, and two assistant chiefs instead of the current one assistant chief.

“I’ve been planning on fading off into the sunset at the rescue squad for quite some time now,” said Smouse, who is also the Antioch Township supervisor. “Not because of all the problems that have sprung up, just because it’s time to move on.”

Rescue squad Chief Wayne Sobczak did not return phone calls Tuesday and Wednesday requesting more details of the proposed corrective plan.

The changes come on the heels of a scathing Illinois Department of Public Health letter sent to Sobczak regarding problems and unprofessional behavior involving the rescue squad.

The Aug. 14 letter accused the squad of mistreating patients, allowing employees to begin their shifts within hours of excessively drinking alcohol, and improperly placing medication into the food and drinks of fellow rescue squad members.

The department’s original letter said the “informal” findings were based on an independent investigation of the squad in May 2012. But it stressed the squad had 30 days to outline “dramatic changes” or formal action would be considered.

The plan of correction sent to the department Sept. 13 was the squad’s response to the informal letter.

In addition to revamping the board of directors, other changes included in the corrective plan call for better security and storage of medication and medical supplies to stop unauthorized access, instituting new policies and procedures in handling improper conduct, and developing a formal chain of command to discipline rescue squad members.

The rescue squad will also adopt a formal drug and alcohol policy, update requirements for reporting any incidents of misconduct, and create personnel files for all members.

The Antioch Rescue Squad is a charity rescue foundation made up entirely of volunteer members and is not associated with the Antioch Fire Protection District or the Antioch Fire Department. It was formed in 1940 and provides emergency medical care 24 hours a day.

Melaney Arnold, an Illinois Department of Public Health spokeswoman, said Wednesday the state is reviewing the Antioch Rescue Squad’s plan of correction.

“Although I cannot provide information specific to this investigation, I can say the department takes this matter very seriously and is actively investigating this situation,” Arnold said. “This is not something IDPH has moved to the back burner.”

Smouse said it’s unclear when the changes outlined in the plan, including when he steps down as president, would be implemented. He said he expects it would happen within 60 days or so.

“It will happen whenever they want to switch it over,” Smouse said. “I’d move on to retired member status, be off the board, and step back. I will still be around, but not as much as in the past.”

Since the department letter in August, Antioch village officials have signed a 90-day oversight contract with the squad to give the village more control in how it is operated.

Trustee Dennis Crosby said he has seen the plan to correct some of the issues at the rescue squad, but said he is far from overwhelmed by it.

“This isn’t about power struggles or politics. This is about human life in the village of Antioch,” he said. “We will not let the rescue squad in the village of Antioch run without oversight any longer. If they don’t meet our standards, we have the ability to pull their license.”

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