SPRINGFIELD >> The Springfield Ambulance Association is in desperate need of resuscitation.
Classified as an independent 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, sufficient income to support daily operations seems to have all but dried up among the first-response providers for Springfield Township. Officials said a $300,000 debt to the township has been a major point of concern for the past year.
“March 2017 was when questions were starting to be asked, in terms of what could possibly be done and how we could help,” Ward 1 Commissioner Mike Maxwell said.
As the ambulance has teetered on the brink of insolvency, township board members have offered fiscal and administrative support to the ambulance directors, contingent on a change in leadership. The township’s preconditions called for the replacement of half of the ambulance’s eight board members, as well as the replacement of the ambulance’s current chief of operations.
According to officials, the ambulance’s board of directors has decided to reject the offer.
“We want to take over the board — those were our terms,” Springfield Township Board of Commissioners President Jeff Harbison said. “Change the board, change the chief. They don’t want us to replace the chief.
“We have the ability as a township to designate what they do but not how they do it. We have the ability to fire them, but we don’t have the ability to run them. All we can do is turn off the switch,” he said.
Officials said the insolvency of the ambulance can only be rectified by monetary support from the township, though the ambulance’s debt has been accruing for the better part of a decade.
“We’ve been approached for the past 10 years for money, but it’s never come to the point where we’ve given them any,” Harbison said. “The bigger picture is the ambulance’s services have gone from all volunteers to professional staff, so it’s tough for them to make it.
“If the rejection is not reversed, we will be forced to accept one of the bids received and move forward with turning over the job of ambulance first response to an organization from another municipality. Springfield Ambulance will cease to exist, and all of our first-responders will lose their jobs,” Harbison said.
“The issue is quite concerning,” Maxwell said. “We’ve been supporting them for several years through their payroll. They haven’t been timely in keeping up with their payments. There should be enough money coming in to sustain them, but because they’re unwilling to share any financial information, we’re basically blind as to where their problems are and how we can help fix them.
“The sad thing is that the current board has been there for quite some time,” Maxwell said. “They started as volunteers, and being a volunteer firefighter myself, I’m aware of the role you take on for your community. Unfortunately, through their failure to cooperate, it’s quite evident that they’ve lose sight of that mission, which is to volunteer for their community.”
Victoria Poppert, a Springfield Ambulance emergency medical technician, delivered a plea for help to the township on behalf of ambulance staff.
“Until a couple of months ago, our board of directors had kept us in the dark in regards to our debt with the township and the possibility of losing our jobs,” Poppert said. “We were very recently informed that the board knew about these issues for approximately a year and decided amongst themselves to keep us uninformed. When our board decided to tell the employees about our squad’s situation, we were told, ‘We have nothing to worry about.’ It has been made abundantly clear that our jobs are at risk.”
Steve Yannes, Springfield Ambulance assistant chief of operations, said ambulance staff is ready to move without the support of the board.
“We’ve tried to speak to the board, but they haven’t been responsive,” said Yannes, who penned the ambulance’s proposed business plan. “In the interim, we’ve tried to build a stronger relationship with the township. We just had a cardiac arrest save during the March snowstorm, so that’s an example of a service the township will no longer have.
“Some new policies went into the business plan to help with cost reduction,” Yannes said. “We’d be working with the firehouses for training, and the chief would be active on the truck, which would help staff the second truck. We would try to look at in-house billing and actively and aggressively apply for grants. We looked into LED lights and solar panels. We support anything that would help with cost reduction.
“We thank the community for their support, we thank the commissioners for all of their help and for believing in us and our staff,” Yannes said.
“Our guys could’ve walked away, but they haven’t,” he said. “We’ve unified.”
“This board is committed to trying to save the ambulance and the jobs within,” Harbison said. “We are deeply distressed that the ambulance board does not support our proposal. It’s much less disruptive if we stay with our current staff. It’s much better to take over the way we proposed. That way, no one loses their jobs. We think it’s in their best interests, as well as the best interests of the township.”
Sans responses from the ambulance board, the township’s options at this point are limited.
“At the end of the day, the township is trying to save the jobs and the independence of the ambulance. We’re supporting their mission, which is to provide services for the township, and the board is acting in opposition,” Harbison said.
“We put out the offer about a month and half ago, and they’ve resisted it completely,” Maxwell said. “They were given a soft deadline. I didn’t tell them that they have an urgent timeline, but I told them that they had to respond in some form by March 5. We met on the 12th, but we didn’t have anything by that point, and the following weekend, they responded with a ‘no.’
“We try to urge the public to contact these board members to consider the offer to save Springfield Ambulance,” Maxwell said. “I’d like to see us do what’s best for the township and their employees. The decision to close Springfield Ambulance will not be because of the commissioners. The board is more or less stonewalling us. That’s basically where we’re at right now.”
Attempts to contact the Springfield Ambulance board for comment were unsuccessful.