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Letter from Concerned Citizen re: MSB Emergency Services

ambulance

Date: September 17,2018

Copies sent to the following:

Major: Vern Halter

Borough Manager: John Moosey

Deputy Borough Manager: George Hays

MSB Assembly

Jim Sykes

Matthew Beck

George McKee

Ted Leonard

Dan Mayfield

Barbara Doty

Randall Kowalke

City of Palmer City Council 

Media: 

Frontiersman Editor

Current & former employee comments regarding the Leadership!   

The barriers to effective leadership was not knowing how to communicate with their people. Maybe the leader didn’t listen enough or they weren’t approachable or accessible. Or maybe they didn’t know how to articulate themselves or they were socially withdrawn. Having effective communication skills is vital when it comes to leadership. MSB EMS Responder.

Informal leaders who are attempting to share ideas are shot down. One of the barriers to effective leadership in the department, according to the responder, was that there is not enough freedom for free thinking leaders. Informal leaders are squashed and supervisory or positional leaders are very threatened by them. As a formal leader, don’t use your positional power to try to keep people in line. Use your positive influence, your vision, and your role model example. MSB EMS Responder. 

Regardless of their position, whether it was a EMT, Paramedic, Driver, Captain, or Command Staff, they weren’t free enough in the department to really put their ideas out there, or say what’s wrong, or what needs to be fixed because they’re afraid they’ll be retaliated against. People need to feel safe in coming forward with their ideas, suggestions, and input. And if you’re the one coming forward, you need to do it with respect and humility. MSB EMS Responder.                                 

I hope these introductory remarks seized your attention because I am writing to you in concerns to a grave and possible catastrophic situation that is occurring within the MSB emergency services under the Assembly’s and Directors watch.  I am speaking in concerns to the state of Emergency Medical Services (EMS) to be specific.

I was employed with MSB EMS and have been involved with emergency services for over the past 15 years in various functions throughout the lower 48, and recently in Alaska. It is not until recently I have observed the magnitude of damages and destruction the MSB is currently on under the current management. Presently, EMS is in severe disarray and in danger of failing to deliver adequate services to the public. The MSB is suffering from severe staffing shortages and deficiencies with on-call and full-time employees resigning, quitting, or being terminated daily due to the hostile working conditions, and lack of support from management. Over the past 15 years I have seen employees come and go in varies agencies, however, this is the first time in my career that I have seen a mass exodus from one organization without anyone taking serious note of the public safety consequence this is creating. This disturbing rate of employee departures creates a public safety concern for the public and our communities due to the lack of EMS providers answering the calls for 911 emergency medical services.

Under the current management, rural areas such as Sutton, Butte, Talkeetna, Willow, and Trapper Creek have been decimated of their volunteer responders without a plan in place to provide sufficient service to the citizens. These on-call volunteers resigned, quit, or were terminated due to the hostile working environment, and lack of support under the current management. In Talkeetna EMS responders walked out over their disgust with managements performance. This continues to happen across the MSB without anyone taking notice.

Core areas such as Wasilla, Palmer, and West Lakes are simply hanging on by a strand with possible disruptions of emergency medical services due low staffing shortages. The public is oblivious that at any given time of the day when they call 911 for emergency medical services they may, or may not get an ambulance, or first responders depending on the day and the current staffing deficiencies.  EMS repeatedly runs out of ambulances or does not have units available to provide medical services to the communities we are accountable for serving. The hostile working conditions are appalling, and the lack of support is causing responders to quit, and seek opportunities away from the MSB.

Other significant issues that are plaguing EMS, and creating a public safety hazards is that responders are not able to operate at their highest level of medical certification or licensure due to the poor organizational policies, and the current Medical Director tyranny temperament. For example, we have multiple EMTs that are trained as fully functional Paramedics; however, they are not allowed to operate as Paramedics based on organizational policies, and the Medical Director’s tyranny temperament. As well as Paramedics being demoted, hassled, chastened, and demeaned over insignificant transgressions of policies and procedures creating constant aggressive working conditions.

Recently EMT 3’s an ALS/ ACLS an advanced care provider had most of their advanced skills and abilities removed from them since the Training & Logistical Chief, as well as the Medical Director did not like the scope of practice that has been provided to theses responders, and stripped these providers of all their advanced skill level of practice. This move to strip EMT 3’s of their scope of practice was catastrophic to many of the rural communities. Many of these communities rely on EMT 3’s as their only source of an advanced prehospital medical care. Many of these communities do not have Paramedic level care, and Paramedic level care could be hours away when requested in the event of a significant emergency.

The Medical Director a contract employee that has been permitted to operate unrestricted and has been involved in employee disciplinary activities without due process to the employee through human resources or union representation per the collective bargaining agreement.  The Medical Director has been engaged in employee intimidation, coercion, and other aggressive behaviors against employees while management sits backs and supports his actions. Recently the Medical Director coerced a Paramedic Supervisor employee not to seek union representation, or file a grievance when they had been wrongfully punished by the management. The Medical Director threated to pull his medical sponsorship from the employee if the employee progressed with the union process. However, he stated that he would continue to sponsor the employee as long as the employee did not seek union representation, and or proper progressive employee disciplinary procedures. This is only one example of intimidation and coercion, that goes unreported and hidden daily. The Medical Director is extremely involved in daily operations exceeding his contract terms and conditions creating operational vulnerabilities based on his lack of operational experiences within EMS services only creating a substantial public safety risk.

Under the current management, the MSB face a severe nepotism issue with two management level employees being in positions of authority directly underneath one another in the Chain of Command chart. The Chief of EMS is married to the Training and Logistics Assistant Chief. Both having the authority to discipline employees and create policies and procedures without the proper checks and balances. Upon the new Chief of EMS assuming control of our department, it was advised that her husband the Training and Logistics Assistant Chief was going to answer directly to the Director of EMS (Director 3). However, all employees full time and part-time employed by EMS must answer to the Chief of EMS creating a significant conflict of interest due to nepotism. Recently the Chief of EMS, and the Training and Logistics Assistant Chief son was recently hired as a part-time EMT creating yet another conflict of interest under the nepotism policy. There are rules and procedures within the MSB addressing issues such as nepotism that have been designed for this very exact reason that are often ignored, or manipulated to suit those we desire to place in these positions as we desire.

The unpredictability of the EMS Chief position has an average career span of about year and half before they call it quits, or are terminated for again varies infractions that are never to be made public due to employee confidentiality concerns. How can you expect a department to function professionally when the department head is continuously changing under turmoil at an alarming rate?

The morale under the current management is at an all-time low. Employees both full-time and part-time feel unappreciated, and devalued. Employees are often walking on eggshells in an attempt to avoid displeasing management in attempts to avoid being harassed or retaliated against under our current authoritarian management system for minor infractions, or at the whim of the Medical Director’s temperament.

Current fulltime employees are not seeking promotional opportunities such as EMT moving up to Paramedic, and Paramedics not moving up to Paramedic Supervisor. Employees are simply not applying for the current positions, and have no aspirations to seek additional responsibilities under the current oppressive management due to the hostile working environment, and lack of support. Fulltime, as well as on-call employees are often fearful to voice their concern, or disagreement over concerns or topics with management. They often feel if they voice their concerns, they become a target only to be forced out for not conforming to the managements every desire, or demands. Employees are demoralized, fed up, and beat down under the current management system. These factors affect public safety, and patient care directly.

Many of the EMS employees are hopeful that the lawsuit filed by our former EMS Director will bring attention to the problems that are plaguing EMS, and the hostile working environment under our current management.  Multiple other employees present, and former have reached out to the attorney that is handling the lawsuit on behalf of our former EMS Director hoping to provide information to the legal team to only build a stronger case against the borough. Employees are very optimistic that this lawsuit cleans house again as it did about five years ago under similar circumstances.

There are a few options that you can consider after reading this letter, You can ignore the problem and act as if it is not happening and hope for the best. By neglecting the situations and current conditions that are occurring the problem will only continue to grow simply creating more of a public safety concern until we have complete catastrophic failure of services with no ambulances or providers answering medical calls. Possibly more lawsuits, and complaints being brought forth by current and former employees for hostile working conditions. Ongoing retention of quality employees will only continue to worsen, and recruiting will be impacted. You have the option to thoroughly investigate the issues and concerns plaguing EMS and make changes that will eliminate such problems in the future. This option will allow EMS to grow and provide emergency medical services to the citizens of our communities and provide public safety to the communities that we all serve.  In conclusion, you have a few options to consider. Time and actions will determine your course of action in regards to the current working conditions and public safety concerns.

Very Respectfully,

Concerned Citizen

17 Comments

  1. Steve Steve September 19, 2018

    That sucks
    I worked with the fire department for few years and was shocked how political the Matsu was.
    I had 10 years as National
    Registry paramedic with full support in the northeast. The job is stressful enough without the powers that be adding to

  2. C.J. C.J. September 19, 2018

    Same as it was over 15 years ago per husband who has been there and done that as EMT 3 formerly with matsu.

  3. rich rich September 19, 2018

    Sounds like Ft. Wainwright FD.

  4. MICP MICP September 19, 2018

    Instead of fixing the issues, they intimidate and harass until the people quit. Walking on eggshells is not how one should be treated at a workplace and such a high stress field should really have more regard on how to treat the employees. Its not about pay. Its not about insurance or healthcare. Its about the safety of the mind. It should be family first, full time job and THEN on call positions. When you intimidate and threaten people, you lose them. When you lose EMS providers, the community LOSES.

  5. J J J J September 19, 2018

    These problems have been there since 1983 when I started and were there when I left in 2016. They have the same problem in fire too. Entire families and buddies less qualified being placed in full time positions. And the MSB got away with not paying into SBS benefits too.

  6. On Call EMT On Call EMT September 19, 2018

    The EMS program is a very expensive mess for the tax payers of the MatSu Borough. There were a few great years in the beginning of this decade with lots of positive change to the EMS system brought about by dedicated EMS leaders who were pushed out much like what is brought to light in this letter. Just in the past 4 years there have been 6 EMS Chief’s – what does that tell you? Privatization is the answer. The Borough should consider contracting for EMS services with a private company. It would be cheaper, no employee problems, much less MSB administration time spent on managing this mess, and better service for the people. Good way to start downsizing government for a conservative assembly. One way or another, things need to change. The taxpayers deserve better.

  7. On Call EMT On Call EMT September 19, 2018

    Imagine what could be discovered if a real, honest and through investigation was done at the direction of the Assembly. Contact past employees, managers and directors and see what they have to say. I’m not sure they would like what they find.

  8. Former employee Former employee September 19, 2018

    I made it one year and was appalled. If the public really knew . . .

  9. Lecon Lecon September 19, 2018

    I told my Trainer I thought about moving to the valley because I love being in EMS. He said he would never work there. There is little chance for advancement, officers get to drive brand new SUV response vehicles and there are very few ambulances.

  10. Judith Ritenburgh Judith Ritenburgh September 19, 2018

    There have been numerous written and verbal complaints and concerns made by responders in the north end. None of them were even addressed! Cheating, lying, schedule changes, favoritism, nepotism, harrassment and lack of communication are just a few of the concerns brought to supervisors! No one wants to work under intolerable conditions, no matter how devoted they are to the profession!

  11. Heather Buben Heather Buben September 20, 2018

    TO ANYONE WHO LIVES IN THE VALLEY, WORKS OR EVER HAS WORKED FOR THE MAT-SU BOROUGH EMS PLEASE READ THIS!!!!

    Unfortunately I was one of many people who fell “victim” to the tyranny that ran rampant through that place. I know first hand what this person is speaking of. It still makes me sick remembering how I was treated after years of hard work and dedication to the department’s I loved so much. But when it came down to it, those who I thought had my back really didn’t. I learned very quickly who my true friends were in the end.

    PLEASE SHARE! We need to end this before it gets even further out of hand.

  12. Realist Realist September 21, 2018

    Took reading this letter 3 times to figure out who the group is that got together to write it is. Lisa’s lawsuit will do little more than pad her pockets with taxpayers money.

  13. Trained Observer Trained Observer September 24, 2018

    After watching my taxes go $4000/yr up in 2017/18 after the completion of the new Meadow Lakes Tajmahal fire station on the Parks, and a new one in Palmer, you can bet I’ll be demanding answers from the Borough assembly.

  14. Steve Steve March 7, 2019

    The previous director Lisa Behrens was a big part of the problem. It is good that she is gone and I hope that she loses her lawsuit. She fired me because I had what is referred to as a plumber’s incident. That means my butt crack popped out. I no longer allowed to work for the borough because of this I have been a responder for 25 years in the lower 48. So you have a fully qualified responder in the Willow in Talkeetna area that is completely unused because of the borough policies and the problems that were caused by otto feather and Lisa Behrens. And those who are currently still in the employ of the borough and in charge of Emergency Services are no better they need to clean house. This includes the top level management. I wholeheartedly agree with what was stated in the article. People are retaliated against for putting forth new ideas and trying to assume some kind of leadership when it’s needed. This not only affects Emergency Medical Services but also Fire Rescue. There have been a lot of firefighters also terminated or forced to quit because of the same issues. We have adequate volunteers to do the work, what we lack is a management that will allow them to operate.

  15. Louis Louis March 8, 2019

    This is also true on the fire rescue side. I was a matsu fire chief for twenty years. I have seen many changes over the years most for the better. In the out line areas we are losing responders all the time. These people do not do this to make a living ok, they do to help the community. If the borough loss all the responders it would not be able to pay for full time responders, it would be tens of millions of dollars. It seems like the only thing the higher up are doing is protecting there jobs and do not care about anything else. The borough should bend over backwards to help develop all the responders. Why would you downgrade what a paramedic who is licensed by a federal agency. This a license not a certificate, big difference. I think all the paid on call responders should pick a day, and not respond that day. This will get the public and the boroughs attention.

  16. Jugs Jugs March 9, 2019

    This was sent out earlier and as expected there was no response regarding leadership and attitudes! A class on harassment can not undo the horrible attitudes and working conditions! The new policy for the northern area just keeps the status quoted and does nothing to increase responders! The changes will still leave ambulances under staffed for important calls! 3-4 responders can not service the northern area! There are too many hours to be covered! Hopefully someone has told Princess Lodge that there will be at least another 15 to 20 minutes added to response time! The staffed ambulance will have to come from the Y

  17. Knowledgeable person Knowledgeable person March 21, 2020

    Mr. Gruber

    Are you sure of the reasons for your termination? Weren’t there other good reasons for your dismissal? Would these reason have involved sexual harassment and grossly inappropriate interaction with fellow female applicants within the EMS division? Do you think that might have been a good reason for your termination? Please, before you presume to implicate innocent persons in the circumstances surrounding your dismissal, get your facts straight.

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