Harrington: EMS faces financial and cultural issues

To the community:

In a recent public meeting, the Public Hospital District Board appointed a new interim chief for EMS. The choice was made over the objections of several EMS staff, one of whom claimed falsely that her job had somehow been threatened for speaking out.

It is the job of a board to ensure that an entity has the resources it needs to sustain operations and fulfill its mission. That mission and viability of EMS are at severe risk because of ongoing financial mismanagement that has occurred over a period of years. The board answers to the community and this community has made clear that it wants EMS to be run in a fiscally sound manner.

From my perspective, the issues facing EMS are both financial and cultural. From a financial perspective, EMS is hanging by a thread. There are no capital reserves or flex in the budget to account for contingencies, and the agency is under investigation by the WA State Attorney General’s office for its billing practices prior to the time when Commissioner Williams and I took office.

The sole candidate for the interim chief's job from within EMS has no financial management experience. Over the past several years, EMS carried more than $4 million on its books as accounts receivable when only a tiny fraction of that was ever truly collectible. For a long time, it seemed to me that no one within the agency truly understood a budgeting process or how to think in a long-term strategic way so that we have the reserves needed to pay for expensive equipment when that equipment is needed.

We turned to an outsider with financial management experience to serve as interim chief because the board needs someone it can trust to help us ensure that EMS can return to a secure financial footing. This is going to be a difficult process and expertise and experience in financial matters are crucial.

From a cultural perspective, the EMS staff needs to get over its mistaken belief that attacking budgetary and financial mismanagement is somehow an attack on EMS. Without a secure financial footing for EMS, it’s not just EMS jobs that are at risk, so too is the ongoing health of this community.


Monica Harrington, Commissioner, San Juan Public Hospital District #1

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