Stanislaus County to end EMS alliance

Stanislaus County leaders are poised today to quit a partnership regulating ground and air ambulances, leaving four small counties without its main financial contributor.

People should not see changes in ambulance service, several players said.

The move requires that the county explore forming a new ambulance partnership with San Joaquin or Merced counties, or both. If that doesn't work, Stanislaus County would go it alone by July 2011.

"They're not meeting our needs," said Jim DeMartini, chairman of the Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors. He referred to the Mountain-Valley Emergency Medical Services Agency, which also covers Calaveras, Alpine, Amador and Mariposa counties.

The proposed split would swim against a tide in recent years of more regional cooperation among agencies on various levels.

Mountain-Valley does not dispatch ambulances or medical helicopters, but sets their service standards and negotiates agreements with government and hospitals. The agency also certifies paramedic and firefighter medical response credentials.

As Stanislaus' representative on the Mountain-Valley board, DeMartini has one of five votes, yet his county makes up more than five-sixths of the partnership's total population. Mountain-Valley's annual budget is about $1.2 million.

Steve Andriese, Mountain-Valley's executive director, predicted slashing his staff of 10 to about three if Stanislaus pulls out. The agency also would have to move its headquarters from Modesto, he said.

"Obviously, this would have a tremendous impact," Andriese said.

Calaveras and Mariposa county officials said they were caught unawares, and Andriese said he learned about Stanislaus' proposed departure only Monday.

Jeanne Boyce, administrative officer for Calaveras County, said, "What does this mean for the rest of us?" Mariposa County Administrative Officer Rick Benson said, "Whenever a big player pulls out of an agreement, it will cause concerns."

Mountain-Valley has lost partners since forming in 1981 with the five current members plus San Joaquin, Merced and Tuolumne counties, which struck out on their own a few years ago. Stanislaus County removed a disaster preparedness component from Mountain-Valley a couple of years ago.

"I've complained about them for years," DeMartini said Monday. A spring report that cast Stanislaus County in a negative light was the final straw for DeMartini, he said.

Stanislaus hasn't checked with San Joaquin or Merced counties to judge interest in a new regional partnership and would be interested only if Stanislaus controlled such an agency, according to a staff report.

Forming a one-county agency would require $80,000 in start-up costs and likely would cost the county $1.65 million to operate, or $295,000 more than it pays now, the report reads. DeMartini said the extra cost would be worth escaping from a bad partnership.

Mary Ann Lee, managing director of the Stanislaus County Health Services Agency, noted the small counties would have 18 months to plan for Stanislaus County's departure. She said, "We're looking at a model that can be focused on our county."

The county's air ambulance provider and its largest ambulance company anticipate no disruptions in service, spokesmen said.

"It's the board's (of supervisors) prerogative to determine how they manage their EMS (emergency medical services) system," said Jason Sorrick of American Medical Response. The ambulance company has a good working relationship with Mountain-Valley, he added.

Graham Pierce, the Modesto-based California director for PHI Air Medical Group, said his company would simply contract directly with Stanislaus County instead of with Mountain-Valley.

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Bee staff writer Garth Stapley can be reached at or 578-2390.

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