Houston Joint Ambulance trustees reach impasse over Spirit EMS contract

By Charlotte Caldwell - [email protected]

HOUSTON – The Houston Joint Ambulance Board of Trustees held an emergency meeting on Dec. 30 to finalize the contract for rescue services with Spirit Medical Transport, LLC for 2023 but did not reach a conclusion as the group was not unanimous on the details of the contract.

The most recent contract between the trustees and Spirit expired at midnight on Dec. 31, 2022, meaning Spirit would no longer service the Houston joint ambulance district and surrounding EMS service providers would respond to emergency calls.

One hour before this meeting, the Lockington Village Council held an emergency meeting and passed a resolution agreeing to a three-year contract for ambulance services between the Houston Joint Ambulance District and Spirit including a 60-day termination clause.

The non-negotiable termination clause – which was recommended by Lockington’s legal counsel – stated, “Houston shall have the right to terminate this agreement upon providing 60 days advance notice if it determines it is financially suitable to contract with another rescue provider,” and was in response to a clause added by Spirit stating, “Spirit shall have the right to terminate this agreement upon providing 60 days advance notice if Spirit determines that the ambulance operation from Houston substation for Houston jurisdiction is financially unsustainable despite a combination of the payment from Houston and reimbursement for transports performed.” According to Spirit CEO/President Brian K. Hathaway, the clause from Spirit originated after members of the Perry Port Salem ambulance district voted on Dec. 19 to only contract with Perry Port Salem Rescue as of Jan. 1, 2023, and he cited the over $200,000 revenue loss from the Perry Port Salem contract.

The Lockington council ordinance also mentioned that Hathaway previously stated that both Houston and Perry Port Salem must agree to the three-year contract or else Spirit will walk away from servicing both entities and that the council “reluctantly obliged” to this agreement with concern from members of the public if they didn’t agree.

Lockington Mayor Tracy Johnson said in a press release before the meeting that “it is believed that other local rescue squads would be willing to cover Houston Joint Ambulance District during a period of reorganization,” and she reiterated this at the trustees meeting, but the Washington and Loramie Township trustees disagreed and voiced concern about the response time if other departments responded.

Ohio law requires that a joint ambulance board be unanimous in their recommendation of an ambulance contract, and because of this clause, the group was not unanimous. Despite this, Hathaway said Spirit will continue EMS coverage to the area through the end of January to allow for all parties to consult with their legal counsel on the next steps.

“Politics aside, morally and ethically, I will not walk away knowing that the representation of 3.5% of the total population served in the ambulance district is putting the lives, health, and well-being of the remaining 96.5% at stake,” Hathaway said regarding Lockington’s representation in the ambulance district. “I took the EMS oath to serve and protect. The people of the district have come to rely on Spirit EMS, and I refuse to let them down on a thought and a prayer that someone else will answer their call for help in a more timely manner than we have the past two years.”

Hathaway also disputed the information from Johnson’s press release in his own release, saying, “Spirit EMS was provided a copy of the ambulance district board’s response via email to the contract at 10:59 a.m. on December 29, 2022, not December 22, 2022, as indicated by Johnson.” He said he responded the same day upon consultation with his legal counsel saying Spirit would either agree with the language presented to the trustees on Dec. 20 without any reciprocal language or the original contract that was accepted unanimously by the trustees on Nov. 21.

Regarding Perry Port Salem ambulance district’s decision to stop contracting with Spirit, Hathaway mentioned that Spirit has responded to most of the calls in Salem and Perry townships since the district started contracting with them in September 2021 and said, “Spirit was paid from the $2 million levy passed by the taxpayers in November 2021. During this same time period, Perry Port Salem Rescue was also paid by the district to respond, but only answered 36.5% of their total dispatched calls over the 16-month period of time. The Perry Port Salem Ambulance Board trustees voted unanimously Dec. 19 to go exclusively with Perry Port Salem Rescue as of Jan. 1, 2023, even though they had responded to just over one out of every three calls over the past 16 months.”

The next Houston Joint Ambulance Board of Trustees meeting to finalize a contract will be held on Jan. 17 at 7 p.m.

By Charlotte Caldwell

[email protected]

Reach the writer at 937-538-4824.

Reach the writer at 937-538-4824.