Rescue 33 suspension appeal heard Monday

Scott Hilyard GateHouse News Service

Representatives for Chillicothe’s Rescue 33 ambulance service made their case at 1 p.m. Monday in an appeal of the permanent suspension handed down in late August by Peoria Area EMS System’s medical director, Dr. Cheryl Colbenson.

The appeal hearing was to be at an undisclosed location and was closed to the public and the press. Because the appeal is conducted by the local system’s resource hospital, in this case OSF Saint Francis Medical Center, it is not governed by the Open Meetings Act.

“They don’t have to open the hearing to the public or press,” said Sabrina Miller, a spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of Public Health, the state agency that regulates ambulance services.

She said the decision to open or close a hearing is at the discretion of the hospital. Section 3.40 of the Emergency Medical Services Act details the process of an appeal by an ambulance service provider that has received a suspension, but does not appear to require that hearings be closed.

If Rescue 33 officials are dissatisfied with the decision of the local board, it has a second avenue of appeal with the state Emergency Medical Services Disciplinary Review Board. It was unclear Friday whether that hearing, should it happen, would be similarly closed to the public.

Rescue 33 was permanently suspended effective Sept. 4, three weeks into a 90-day probationary period it received because of staffing deficiencies and inadequate response times. Colbenson detailed the issues that led to the suspension in a letter to Rescue 33, but has not discussed those details publicly. Rescue 33 officials have not discussed the nature of their appeal, though one official suggested they were preparing to challenge that the findings rose to a level that necessitated a permanent suspension.

Rescue 33 officials either could not be reached for comment or declined to comment. Colbenson and St. Francis attorney Doug Marshall “have agreed not to talk to discuss this until after the review,” wrote Shelli Dankoff, a spokeswoman for St. Francis, in an email response. She wrote that after a decision on the appeal was made, comments on the topic by local ambulance system officials would be limited to whether the suspension was upheld, reversed or modified.

If the suspension is upheld, Rescue 33 would need to completely reorganize and reapply under a new operating model before it could be considered to be licensed to resume as an ambulance service. Since the suspension took effect, ambulance service in Chillicothe, the village of Hopewell and five surrounding townships has been provided by Advanced Medical Transport of Central Illinois.

A referendum to authorize the city of Chillicothe to raise taxes to pay for an ambulance service is on the November ballot.

Editor’s note: Due to press deadlines, comments from local officials about the hearing will be in next week’s edition. The review board has five days to notify Rescue 33 of its ruling.