West Side Community Ambulance is moving forward with the recruitment of a chief of operations - a position seen as critical in the company’s transition from outside oversight back to an in-house management structure.
While the checklist of transition items is far-reaching, including items that range from hiring a medical director and securing narcotics purchase approvals to upgrading technology and establishing quality assurance/quality improvement protocols.
But perhaps no single step is as crucial to the future of West Side Community Ambulance as bringing the right manager in to oversee the operation, ambulance board president Dennis Brazil and Roberta Casteel, administrative supervisor for the provider.
West Side turned to outside management firms five years ago when the organization was in turmoil, but after arrangements with two different companies did not work out is going back to an in-house manager.
“It is going to be hard long-term,” Casteel acknowledged. “But it didn’t work with SEMSA and it didn’t work with AMR (the outside firms), so where do you go? You go back to your roots, because there was a time when it did work for West Side on its own. The only way it is going to work is with the right leadership and (if) all the employees come together as a team to make it happen.”
The last few years have been challenging for all West Side employees, Casteel and Brazil added.
“The employees need stability,” Brazil commented. “It has been a long time coming. There has been a lot of change for the employees and staff.”
“It has been hard on them as well as myself. To have five managers in seven years.....there has been no consistency,” Casteel said.
The new manager must be willing to handle multiple duties, Brazil emphasized - and be willing to jump aboard an ambulance if need be to keep it in service or respond to calls using the district’s quick-response vehicle pickups.
West Side Community Healthcare District, which operates the taxpayer-supported ambulance, has started the recruitment process. Twenty-five candidates applied for the management position. About half are from the local area and some are current West Side employees, Casteel said.
She screened applicants, and 13 were invited to interview. Nine accepted and interviewed before a committee comprised of two area ambulance directors, a local citizen, a former local operations manager and a representative of ambulance oversight agency Mountain Valley EMS.
From that group, three finalists will be forwarded to the ambulance board for consideration.
Brazil said the hope is still to bring a manager on board in time to transition to local management in early September, but conceded that time frame may be ambitious.
Brazil said the plan is to put the manager in place, and then determine if a second, part-time assistant position is required.
Given the workload and requirements, Casteel said, she believes the second position will also be imperative.
Brazil said that the district has already made arrangements with a number of outside firms to provide services such as payroll, billing and accounting.
In the past, he said, in-house staff attempted to handle some of those duties but did not have the resources to effectively do so.
Brazil said he believes West Side is fiscally sound as the agency moves into transition. The agency has account balances in excess of $950,000, and showed a $308,000 net income in the recently-completed fiscal year, nearly double the budget projection.
A number of challenges face West Side moving forward - including negotiating a new contract with its employees, establishing new crew quarters and potentially considering asking voters to approve an increase to the Measure A parcel tax, which has remained the same since its approval in 1984.
First, however, the district must find the right person to lead the organization, Casteel and Brazil emphasized.
“To me, this is make or break,” Casteel reflected. “We have to find people who are invested in West Side. If we don’t, it won’t happen.”