Antioch agrees to 90-day contract with beleaguered rescue squad
Under scrutiny by a state agency regarding its operations, the Antioch Rescue Squad will continue providing emergency medical service for the village through an inaugural, short-term contract.
Mayor Lawrence Hanson cast a tiebreaking village board vote late Monday to approve the 90-day contract with the privately operated, nonprofit rescue squad. Antioch trustees voted 3-3 on the contract when Hanson decided the issue.
Formed in 1940, the rescue squad uses volunteers and contract workers to provide emergency medical care 24 hours a day for the village and Antioch Township.
Several accusations have been made against emergency medical technicians and paramedics in a letter from the Illinois Department of Public Health to Antioch Rescue Squad Chief Wayne Sobczak. Officials said the letter was based on an independent probe of the squad that began about three months ago.
Mistreatment of patients, lack of medication inventory and allowing employees to start shifts within hours of excessively drinking alcohol are among the claims in the state's Aug. 14 letter to the rescue squad. The letter also says there are informal findings that some squad members placed medication into food and drinks of their colleagues.
Hanson said the village has never had to pay the squad for service during 73 years and that won't change with the short-term contract. He said he recognizes the seriousness of the accusations against the squad and that the deal marks the first time the village will have any say in its operations.
"This is a very complex situation," Hanson said. "This is an organization that pretty much has been a grass-roots organization."
Village Trustee Scott Pierce said during Monday's meeting he supported the 90-day contract because the village can end it for cause if the rescue squad doesn't make necessary improvements sought by the state. Progress reports are to be submitted to the village at the 30- and 60-day marks.
"If it ain't fixed, get rid of them," Pierce said.
But Trustee Dennis Crosby, who voted against the short-term deal, said it lacks specific, measurable goals for the rescue squad. Crosby also voiced frustration over spending the past 18 months negotiating a long-term rescue squad contract without success.
"I am not comfortable continuing to run a rescue squad without oversight from the village," Crosby said.
Village Administrator James Keim said the squad needs to create a corrective plan for the state within 30 days.
At least 60 spectators crowded Antioch's village board meeting room Monday night. Many in the audience were rescue squad personnel and supporters.
Rescue squad attorney Martin Lapointe spoke during public comment time and said he was part of a meeting Monday afternoon with officials from the Department of Public Health and the village of Antioch.
Lapointe said the state characterized the rescue squad's problems as "real limited" and that changes will be made. He added the state agency has no intention of shutting the Antioch Rescue Squad.
"I can't express enough how supportive they (the state) are of the squad," Lapointe said.
Rescue squad member Chelsea Malone said she and her colleagues are volunteers who are dedicated paramedics.
"Please just understand that we do this out of the goodness of their hearts because we care about where we live and who we serve," Malone said. "If you ever have any doubts, come see us. We're there. Come in. Have a cup of coffee and talk to us."
However, Glencoe Public Safety Director Mike Volling said it's time to end the rescue squad and have paramedic service provided by the Antioch Fire Department, an arm of village government. Volling said he's a longtime Antioch resident and a retired rescue squad member.
Volling's daughter, Shannon, is part of an amended federal lawsuit filed against the rescue squad in February. As part of the suit, Shannon Volling and two other women claim they were subjected to on-the-job sexual harassment.
"I will say, before the lawsuit was ever filed, she made repeated attempts to report the problems she was having to the rescue squad administration and they simply ignored it," Mike Volling said of his daughter. "They just blew it off."
Meanwhile, Crosby said the village should demand quarterly financial reports from the rescue squad as part of a contract. He said the village over the years has contributed money for dispatch services and fuel without knowing if the rescue squad needed the financial assistance.
Internal Revenue Service documents from 2010, the most recently available year, show the Antioch Rescue Squad Foundation had $651,103 in total revenue and about the same in expenses. It listed end-of-year net assets or fund balances at about $1.5 million.
IRS documents from 2009 show the rescue squad had $849,038 in total revenue and $638,156 in expenses. There were roughly $1.5 million in net assets or fund balances at year's end, according to the 2009 IRS documents.
Expenses from 2009 included $20,838 for travel, but specifics were not listed on the IRS documents.
In June, Metro Paramedic Services of Elmhurst filed a lawsuit against the rescue squad in Lake County circuit court seeking payment for its contracted personnel and at least $100,000 in damages. Metro claims the rescue squad terminated a three-year contract without warning June 15.