Review board upholds Rescue 33 suspension

Marianne Gillespie TimesNewspapers

Residents who attended the IVC Homecoming Parade Friday afternoon may have noticed something missing in the line of entries — a Rescue 33 ambulance.

The free ambulance service received word Thursday of an unfavorable ruling as the Peoria Area EMS Review Board upheld the permanent suspension of the squad. The review board held a hearing Oct. 1 as Rescue 33 challenged the suspension.

"After thorough deliberation, the Review Board identified several areas that need to be addressed to ensure Ambulance Rescue 33 can provide the expected level of care to the community on a consistent, reliable basis," a press release issued by the Peoria Area EMS System through an OSF Saint Francis Medical Center spokeswoman stated. The press release was all the information the PAEMS would release.

More than 40 years of service to the community was cut quickly as the squad was notified in July that it was on probation.

On Aug. 30, Dr. Cheryl Colbenson, medical director of the Peoria Area Emergency Medical Services System, placed the squad on permanent suspension, making their last calls in the wee hours of Sept. 4.

Since that time, Advanced Medical Transport of Central Illinois has been covering the area Rescue 33 serviced.

The review board addressed items such as governance and leadership; education of personnel; quality assurance and documentation; staffing, response time and mutual aid; and long- term funding.

"The review board decided there were too many areas of concern and individual deficiencies which could not be remedied soon enough to justify modifying the suspension or extending the probationary period," the press release stated.

Rescue 33 may submit a new system plan to the Peoria Area EMS System once the concerns and issues identified have been resolved, according to the suspension letter.

"Colbenson and the Peoria Area EMS System offer their guidance and assistance in the development of a new EMS system plan, with a goal of ensuring quality, safe, timely and reliable EMS care for the community," the press release concluded.

The assistance that the system says it offers seems to leave Rescue 33 members scratching their heads.

"Alternative outcomes were discussed and presented to not only to the Review Board but directly to Dr. Colbenson that would have benefited both sides, but were not considered in the Review Boards final decision," a Rescue 33 press release stated.

"Rescue 33 personnel showed proof of improvement in the three areas of concern listed in the suspension letter; however, unfortunately the review board accepted testimony from several years past even though it was outside of scope of the suspension letter and probation."

Additionally, the squad claims it reduced its "out the shoot" average response time from 4.8 minutes in June to 3.2 minutes in August.

"We are very disappointed in the Review Board's decision to uphold such a severe decision without even thinking of alternative ways to modify such a harsh punishment. The 'Greatest Care and Love' seems to Rescue 33 personnel to only reflect an inpatient philosophy of those whom work for OSF and not their total dealings with outside agencies," the Rescue 33 statement read.

The review board's decision was issued Oct. 3, and made public the next day through a press release.

The information, however, was not available to Rescue 33 personnel before it was made public.

"I did not receive it until 3 p.m.," Ron Hedden, president of Rescue 33, said about the certified letter he received on the ruling.

"The whole deal we feel like there's something else behind it," said Hedden.

Despite the unfavorable ruling, the squad can still ask the state board to review the ruling within 10 days.

"Rescue 33 personnel are still committed to our community and are deeply researching alternative means to provide our community with a reliable, safe and committed community-based ambulance service," according to the squad's statement.

Also of note to residents is how an ambulance service could be funded.

City residents will vote on a referendum to add a line on the tax levy for ambulance service. It is something that township officials are looking at as well.

"There is a definite need for the referendum," said Hedden.