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Ruston it is

Jury selects RFD to remain parish EMS, rescue provider
Thursday, October 13, 2022
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Leader photo by Caleb Daniel A packed house turned out for Tuesday’s Lincoln Parish Police Jury meeting in which the jury voted 7-5 to accept the Ruston Fire Department’s proposal to provide EMS and rescue services to the parish.

Eight months after first discussing the issue, the Lincoln Parish Police Jury has chosen to accept the Ruston Fire Department’s proposal to provide emergency medical and rescue services to the entire parish for 2023-27.

Before a packed crowd at the Library Events Center Tuesday night, the jury voted 7-5 in favor of Ruston’s proposed contract that would see the parish pay $645,604 for the services, plus an annual increase to cover inflation.

The RFD already provides those services to the parish now and has for some 30 years. The current contract expires Dec. 31.

The jury also had proposals on the table from Pafford EMS for EMS and the Lincoln Parish Fire Protection District for rescue. Those offers had a combined price tag ranging from $838,000 to more than $1.1 million year to year.

“The numbers say we don’t have a choice,” District 9 juror Joe Henderson said.

The meeting saw nearly half an hour of public comments followed by heated discussion among jurors, often punctuated by raucous applause from the crowd of at least 80 residents who seemed to almost uniformly support the Ruston proposal.

In the end, jurors T.J. Cranford, Logan Hunt, Glenn Scriber, Matt Pullin, Skip Russell, Henderson and Annette Straughter voted to accept Ruston’s offer. Jury President Richard Durrett, Vice President Milton Melton, and jurors Theresa Wyatt, Hazel Hunter and Sharyon Mayfield voted against it.

The vote came after five months of Ambulance Service Committee meetings to secure and vet the proposals. The committee recommended the jury go with Ruston.

Earlier in the meeting Henderson made a motion to accept Ruston’s five-year contract — for one year only.

“You can’t accept a one-year deal that’s not on the table,” said Lewis Jones, the jury’s attorney.

Nevertheless, the motion garnered a 6-6 vote, failing by one.

After the meeting Ruston Fire Chief Chris Womack said his department is already seeking additional personnel and taking applications. He said whatever hires can be made in the next few months will be sent to the next training academy in February.

“There’s no change to the service (under the new contract),” he said. “We’ll keep doing as we do.”

Tuesday’s vote may have been the culminating point thus far in a process that, at least publicly, began in February, but it’s not the end of the issue.

The jury must still determine how it plans to pay for the services — a fact some jurors said made them hesitant to vote.

Wyatt, of District 1, ridiculed a separate item earlier in the meeting that would have commissioned a study of future improvements to the grounds of the parish courthouse, saying new projects would distract from paying for ambulance services.

Wyatt later said she was concerned the ambulance bill would have to be paid with a new tax to rural residents.

“We don’t know where the money is coming from, and until we have a clear picture of where we’re going to get that money, I don’t think it’s right to impose upon (rural citizens) without them having a say-so,” Wyatt said.

District 5’s Logan Hunt, who released a three-page analysis supporting the RFD proposal last wek, said the jury couldn’t delay making a provider selection any longer.

“We can’t say tonight, ‘We can’t vote because we don’t have a way to pay for it.’ Because on Jan. 2, these people need an ambulance,” Hunt said, to applause from the crowd.

“It’s not do we pick an ambulance tonight, it’s which one do we choose. Because we have to choose.”

Hunt’s written analysis focused on the different levels of service between the two proposals, the difference in cost to the jury, and the difference in cost to patients. He emphasized that final point Tuesday.

“If we have an option on the table where it’s explicit in their contract that patients will not be billed directly, then I think we should take the option that will be free to our constituents,” he said.

The RFD will bill only what patients’ insurance will pay. As a private provider, Pafford can’t legally do that — it has to charge the full bill.

District 11’s Sharyon Mayfield voted against a previous proposal in July to contract with Ruston for one year.

She later publicly asked the ambulance committee to bring Ruston back to the table.

“I didn’t know the city was going to come back and say a five-year thing instead of a one-year thing,” Mayfield said Tuesday.

She said the Ruston Board of Aldermen’s recent addition of a $5 fee to city residents to offset rising EMS costs should have allowed the city to lower its asking price to the parish. Since it didn’t, she couldn’t vote for the Ruston contract.

Glenn Scriber, of District 6, also voted against the previous proposal in July. But since then he said he “saw everything I needed to see” to support the Ruston offer.

“Not a single person has called me and said, ‘We do not need to go with the city of Ruston,’” he said. “Not a single one, and I’ve had a bucketful of people who have said, ‘You had better take advantage of this opportunity.’

“We pray every single meeting, and every single person that I hear pray asks for wisdom for the decisions we’re going to make. Do we really want it?”

District 12’s Annette Straughter, a long-time nurse, said she supported the Ruston proposal because it offered the highest quality of service.

“I cannot tell you the level of expertise they bring to the profession,” she said. “There is none other that can deliver what they offer.”

Roughly a dozen people gave public comment at the start of the meeting. Aside from largely supporting the Ruston proposal, the common theme was a plea for the city and parish to work together.

Restaurant owner Chris “Moose” Garriga claimed some jurors were acting with “personal vendettas.” Ruston resident Bill Elmore said he didn’t want to see an “us against them” mentality.

Retired RFD Assistant Chief Tommie Woods said the parish “ needs Ruston just like Ruston needs the parish,” while Ruston Mayor Ronny Walker told jurors it was time to “put personal feelings aside.”

Now that the jury has approved the contract, Durrett and Walker must sign it, and it will go into effect Jan. 1. Attorneys for both the parish and city are expected to confer this week on finalizing the contract.

The jury must now identify and agree on a means to pay the bill.

Parish Administrator Doug Postel said he and his administrative office have come up with some funding ideas that they plan to present to the jury in the coming months.