Probation prompts ambulance manager’s resignation
By Daniel Arens
Controversy and conflict within the Mercer County Ambulance Service reached a head at a special meeting held at the beginning of September. The meeting involved accusations and emotional pleas from various levels of the service, culminating in the resignation of the manager after the meeting closed.
The ambulance board had moved to give manager Angie Sayler a three-month probation period, during which time the executive board would monitor the ambulance situation and provide performance reviews. After the meeting ended, however, Sayler tendered her resignation.
There has been contention within the various levels of board, management, staff, and volunteers with the ambulance service for some time now. Board President Rhonda Pfenning called the meeting to address her concerns about how finances, communication, and ethics were handled by Sayler. Pfenning and other board members spoke about allegations from the previous board meeting and a recent incident involving the transfer of a body to the funeral home rather than the hospital, which they said violated protocol.
Sayler and several staff members responded by saying that Sayler needed to be given the leeway to manage effectively, and addressed the fact that the ambulance service’s inner turmoil predates Sayler’s term as manager. Concerns were also stressed about whether the board had a plan in place to fill both the managerial replacement if Sayler was removed from her position and to find a bookkeeper for finances.
Several attendees at the meeting addressed the ambulance’s image in the community.
“We have a reputation to uphold in this community,” Pfenning said.
Several staff and volunteers spoke up, saying that they joined the ambulance service “for our community, for our patients,” and urging the board to make decisions that would unify rather than further divide the ambulance staff.
Financially, concerns were raised about numbers changes in monthly budgets that should have remained stable. Sayler replied that the changes reflected updated audit information that she was not aware of until recently. There have also been issues with transitioning to a new software program for accounting and budgeting.
Pfenning also cited controversy with the Riverdale Ambulance Service that was brought up at the August board meeting, saying we “shouldn’t be at odds with our neighbor.” The situation with the funeral home was also brought up, where Pfenning accused Sayler of violating protocol by not transporting to the hospital.
“We have to do what medical direction tells us to do,” Sayler said, stating that when her staff contacted medical personnel they were told to go to the funeral home.
Board Member and Mercer County Sheriff Dean Danzeisen replied it was the coroner’s case, and that he can recall no incident of a patient taken to the funeral home, even if considered deceased. The coroner has since resigned his position.
Duane Scheurer expressed disapproval that his name was brought up with the incident, saying that he had no involvement in any of the events that led to the misunderstanding.
Several staff members also spoke up with concerns. Sayler had rescinded the administrative rights of two employees, citing that they were not being truthful with her and that she needed more control of their activities. Sayler continued that she had staff available to cover the positions.
Darrold Bertsch questioned the timing of Sayler rescinding rights -- which occurred the day after the August board meeting -- remarking that, from the outside, the action seemed “punitive.” He also asked why the staff members in question were not informed ahead of time about her decision.
Sayler responded by saying that many other concerns of budget and administration occupied her time, but she intended to inform them when possible.
Discussion then turned towards the lack of advanced life support (ALS) service for a 12-hour period of time, during which period basic life support (BLS) was the only service available. The lapse followed the resignation of an ALS provider. Sayler pointed out that she had spoken with state agencies and confirmed that BLS service was all that was required for ambulance services like that of Mercer County.
Board members retorted that, while that is true, ALS service could have been available if communication had been better since, after learning of the resignation, another ALS provider had said that he was available if needed.
After addressing these and similar recent issues, Pfenning asked what was needed for the service to be “viable,” adding that “these are the situations where we lose trust.”