Competition makes for ‘inefficient’ EMS system in Harrison Co.
by Troy Graham
STAFF WRITER

    If you were to have a heart attack at the Clarksburg Wal-Mart, the first ambulance that would be called out would be from the Harrison County Emergency Squad in North View even though the Anmoore emergency squad sits less than a mile away.
Conversely, certain areas of West Milford are the first response area for Anmoore, even though the Harrison emergency squad recently opened a station there.
    These are just some of the problems that plague the emergency system in Harrison County, which is made up of five non-profit ambulance services. Three for-profit ambulance companies operate here, but they are not dispatched by 911.
It is a system in which distrust among the non-profit squads runs rampant. An independent report released this year described “fractionation” and competition between the squads that has left an “inefficient system” with “duplication of services, poor communication and coordination.”
    In addition, because of the ill feelings among the squads, crews in some instances have called for assistance from squads that they get along with, even if they are further away than another squad, said Dr. Mike Hartzog, one of the authors of the report. “It’s bothersome to me when I see an ambulance pass two stations on the way to help another ambulance,” he said.
    The Harrison County Commission has recently asked the EMS Authority to redraw some of the first-response lines to ensure that the closest ambulance is the first called, and Hartzog said the assistance problem “can be easily worked out by setting up protocols with the 911 system.”
    Nonetheless, these situations are symptomatic of the overall ailments of distrust and lack of coordination in one of the county’s most vital services.
 
Consolidation is a 4-letter word
 
    When the Harrison County Emergency Squad announced in December that it was nearly broke and for-profit Jan-Care had offered to buy it out, the county commission rallied with financial support to keep the squad in public hands.
    In today’s increasingly complicated and competitive health care world, the other four squads could eventually face a similar situation, officials warned. Consolidating the squads emerged as the most sensible solution.
    County officials, though, backed off of the discussion of consolidation when it became apparent that the squads would never agree to merging.
    Hartzog and Dr. Dave Anderson, the other author of the emergency system evaluation, also shied away from consolidation in their report. “You say the word ‘consolidation’ and it scares everyone, so we tried to avoid the word,” Hartzog said.
Critics of the squads say they are simply unwilling to give up their kingdoms. The squads say as long as they are solvent, why bother them? And, of course, there isn’t much consensus among the squads.
    Jeanne Edmond, the president of the Anmoore squad, makes no apologies for taking the position for which she is criticized.
“This out here is my community. I want to do what’s best for them,” she said. “In a way, I don’t want them to come into my little kingdom.”
    Kelly Blackwell, the chief of the Bridgeport Fire Department and the chairman of the EMS Authority, said there is no need to fix what isn’t broken. “Why change when you’re giving the service to the community?” he asked.
    Edmond said she “doesn’t want to hear consolidation. I hate the word.” The little squads have more to lose than to gain by consolidating, she said.
    She points to a recently purchased ambulance and fears that, under consolidation, it would be moved out of Anmoore.
“We put $60,000 in that unit and if they up and consolidate, how do the people of this town get their money back if they move it to Quiet Dell?” she asked.
    Edmond and the rest of the Anmoore squad don’t trust county officials to do the right thing under consolidation, largely because they are still stinging from several years ago when they asked the county for financial help with some tax problems. The county sent a $33 check. “They weren’t there to back us up,” she said. “We do what we have to to survive.”
    In addition, the Anmoore unit is tied into the volunteer fire department, as are units in Bridgeport and Salem. Edmond says the ambulance and fire are so intertwined that you couldn’t separate the ambulance and expect the fire department to survive.
Blackwell said it would not only be a hardship on the fire department, but “a hardship on the citizens when you take two ambulances out of a community that have been there for years.”
 
Can they stay afloat?

    Even if the squads won’t consent to consolidation, the squads are missing out on several opportunities to improve themselves financially, several officials said.
    For instance, the squads don’t do any centralized purchasing and they have no standard pricing in the county, Hartzog said.
“It’s kind of confusing,” he said. “I think the squad could consolidate and get a standard price.”
    Blackwell, however, said the squads got a legal opinion on standardized pricing several years ago and were told that it amounted to price fixing “and then you get in trouble with the feds.”
    As far as centralized purchasing goes, that is a job left up to the county EMS director, a position that has been vacant for two-and-half years, he said. In addition, there is no place to properly store goods and many squads use different brands of equipment. “It could work for some things but not everything,” Blackwell said.
    The key to solvency, Edmond said, is to maintain a strong volunteer, non-paid presence in the squads. Anmoore has twice as many volunteer paramedics as paid. Edmond herself works during the day for Jan-Care.
“Jan-Care is my paycheck; this is my heart,” she said.
 
Resolving the distrust

    Blackwell and others say there is cooperation among the squads. Edmond said the actual paramedics and technicians in the field get along well. In fact, some of the volunteers from different squads work during the day together at for-profit companies.
    It is the distrust of politics entering into emergency services that keeps the squads from merging, Edmond said.
That sort of distrust is not uncommon, said Mark King, the director of the state Office of EMS. He has seen it in other counties around the state, and the state office tries to help them solve those problems.
    The state has a grant that allows counties to hire a consultant to review the entire system. With an outside consultant making recommendations, it may be easier for the squads to accept changes, he said.
    In fact, Edmond said she would not be opposed to redrawing lines of first response or other changes if she thought they would be done fairly. However, King said he has “not been able to get anyone’s attention” with the grant.
    In the end, he said, if major changes like consolidation happen, they will have to be initiated by politicians, most likely the county commission.
    “Sometimes it’s a political nightmare, but they have to make difficult decisions sometimes,” he said. “But, boy, hostile takeovers are what you’re talking about.”



Police utilize ’Net to find
missing kids
by James Fisher
STAFF WRITER

    For more than a year, the parents of a boy missing from the central part of the state wondered what happened to their son and if they would ever see him again.
    Local and state police searched, but found no trace of the boy. Then, six months ago, new computer technology enabled police to locate the boy and his abductor in Chicago. The two met on-line, according to police. The man apparently came to West Virginia and took the boy to Illinois.
    The boy is now back home with his family and in counseling to help him deal with his months of abuse. Police are pursuing a case against the man.
    West Virginia has nearly 400 missing children and adults, said State Police Sgt. Ric Robinson. More reports pour into state and local police agencies daily, he said.
    A non-profit computer company called ANSER is providing computer software to the state police that will search the Internet 24 hours a day, scouring chat rooms and web sites for missing children.
    The state police is one of only four law enforcement departments receiving the software as part of a pilot program, Robinson said. If the software proves successful, the company hopes to distribute the system to more departments on a nationwide basis.
    The FBI and the U.S. Customs Service are also getting the program to search for missing children. South Florida Law Enforcement is using the system strictly for drug interdiction, Robinson said.
    “It has shown a tremendous success rate so far,” Robinson said. “It uses digital facial recognition and also identifies certain word groups that tell the system it’s logged onto a kiddie porn page.”
    Once the system finds a potential match of a missing child, it encrypts the image and sends it to the state police, along with the identity of the person who posted the picture. Matches are encrypted to prevent them from unintentionally being spread on the Internet, Robinson said.
    Internet connections to crime are rising almost as sharply as the increase in the World Wide Web, Robinson said. However, computers are just as effective in combating crime and finding missing children. “Cyber criminals pose a serious threat to our government, businesses, our families and our children,” he said. “Law enforcement officials are losing the fight against criminals in cyberspace.”
    The leading cause of missing children is runaway teen girls between the ages of 13 and 17, said Sgt. Bruce Adkins of the state police’s Missing and Exploited Children section of the Bureau of Criminal Investigations.
The second leading cause is non-custodial parents not returning or abducting children, Adkins said. The smallest category, less than 2 percent, police have no leads, he said.
    “Years ago, it was generally accepted that if a child was with a parent, they were safe,” Robinson said. “We’re finding out that is not always the case. It’s amazing what some parents will do to children to get back at the other spouse.”
State police registers list four children currently missing from Harrison County, including one reported Friday. Kanawha, Cabell and Jefferson counties account for nearly one-third of all children reported missing in the state, Adkins said. The main reason is juvenile shelters located in those counties.
    One fallacy concerning missing children that Robinson wants to dispel is the “24-hour rule.” Many people believe from television that a person must be missing for 24 hours before a report can be filed, he said. That is not true in West Virginia and never has been, he said. “Time is of the essence,” he said. “Every minute we have to look, it increases the chances of the person being found.”
    Cyber predators could become a big problem in the not-too-distant future, Adkins said. “The Internet is bringing the criminal right into your home, and that’s the problem,” he said.
    In the last year, cyber predators have been blamed for three or four missing children in the state. Several more children who met someone on-line were not actually abducted, but they could have been, Adkins said. There are probably other incidents that were not even reported because the child returned home within several days.
    “Anytime a child is missing longer than three to five days, we tend to take a harder look at it in regards to possible foul play,” he said. “Most of the time, the investigation of a murdered child starts as a missing person report.”



Ramp dinner raises needed
funds for community center
by Gail Marsh
STAFF WRITER

    Whether boiled, fried or eaten raw, John Mazzie loves ramps. “I’ve had them four times this week already. I love them fried in bacon grease and topped with cheese, or with eggs, or just any old way,” the Flemington resident said.
    Ramp season is just getting underway, and people lined up at the Haymond Community Building near Grafton on Sunday to enjoy a dinner featuring the taste of the strong-smelling cousin of the wild onion.
    Mazzie said volunteers from the non-profit Taylor Development Group, Inc. were hosting the dinner to raise funds to support the community center. Dinners have been held monthly at the center since the school was purchased by the group from the Taylor School Board almost two years ago, Mazzie said.
    The dinner boasted ramps served in bowls raw or fried with potatoes, along with roast pork, soup beans, applesauce, cornbread and a table full of desserts. The turnout appeared to be a record for the center located in a former elementary school along U.S. Route 119.
    “I guess we’re one of the first organizations this year to host a ramp dinner, so people were anxious to come out and try them. Looks like we’ll serve more than 300 people by the time the day is over,” Mazzie said.
    The kitchen was abuzz with volunteers on Sunday, who were doing everything from mixing up a batch of coleslaw to breaking eggs for yet another pan of cornbread.
    Ruth Malone was right at home in the middle of the hubbub. The former cook was employed at Haymond Elementary School for 17 years where she kept busy feeding the school’s 120 children. “I never had this much help when I was feeding the kids,” Malone said, laughing.
    Leona Phillips helped on the serving line, dishing out hot bowls of steaming beans to complement the rest of the meal. She said this would probably be one of the best fund raisers for the center yet.
    “So many of us here attended this old school. We’re working to make it a successful community center in order to keep this place alive,” she said.
    A steady line of diners streamed into the school’s front hallway all afternoon, and those who were finished with their meals stopped to talk on the way out with friends and neighbors. Burton Lane, in town on business from Heath, Ohio, told the volunteers they were doing a super job. “This has got to be the best homecooked meal I’ve had in years. It’s better than what my grandmother used to make,” Lane said.
    Bob Knotts, president of the Taylor Development Group Inc., said the fund raiser will help replace the center’s furnace, install new windows or make repairs to the parking lot. He said people from all over Taylor County are working to make the old Haymond school one of the nicest community centers around.
    “There’s a real need for places like this to help people stay in touch. That’s what we want to do, to have more things here to bring the community together,” he said.



Weston police are ‘trend-setters,’ not ‘trend followers’
by Torie Knight
STAFF WRITER

    When Weston Police Chief Robby Clem took office about two years ago, he worried about the condition of the department.
The cruisers were getting older. The officers needed equipment.
    Knowing that the Weston City Council was flirting with a deficit and wouldn’t be able to hand out money, Clem and Officer Brian Kunkel started looking for grants.
    In the last three years, they have applied for more than $190,000 in grants, many of which they have received. They have purchased new cruisers and equipment. Now, the Weston Police Department is going a step farther.
    Clem said the officers have plans to initiate a program similar to D.A.R.E. that will take officers into local schools. They are applying for grants to start a bicycle patrol. And, an $8,000 grant is in the works for a K-9 unit — a unit that can detect both drugs and bombs. The area doesn’t have any bomb detection dogs. “We want to be a trend setter, not a trend follower,” Kunkel said. Clem classifies his department as being young and aggressive.
    The five officers run 24-hour shifts, 7 days a week. They put an average of 150 to 200 miles on a vehicle each day — all for $6.89 an hour. “We do the best we can,” Clem said.
    Some of the department improvements include new jackets, rechargeable flash lights, new uniforms, gloves and cruisers.
Clem said it is one step and one grant at a time.
Some recent grants for the Weston Police Department include:
— a $5,000 West Virginia Highway Safety DUI grant for overtime funds.
— a $20,000 Law Enforcement Block Grant to purchase four new radios and a police cruiser.
— a $6,000 Federal Clean Air Act grant that will go toward the purchase of a natural gas cruiser.
— a $10,000 West Virginia Highway Safety Program grant to purchase in-car camera and radar units.
— $5,000 from the State Budget Digest for new weapons.
— a $35,000 Governor’s Community Partnership Grant for one fully-equipped cruiser, a computer for the secretary, two in-car video camera and radar units and two preliminary breath tests.



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