Hurd would have celebrated 20 years of service to Patterson District Ambulance this May. Out of the last 20 years, nine were as the district ambulance’s director. Hurd strongly feels that there was no justification to his release.
“It’s a long game of politics. They terminated me for no cause,” Hurd said Monday before he and a group of fellow paramedics, firefighters, and concerned citizens stood up to the Del Puerto Health Care District board of trustees during their Monday meeting, June 2.
Some attendees addressed the board with their concerns regarding Hurd’s dismissal before the board’s scheduled closed session meeting at 6:30 p.m.
The attendees weren’t able to address the board again until they were done consulting with their legal counsel in closed session, delaying the start of the regularly scheduled meeting by over an hour.
The crowd flowed out of the cramped board room office and at times unsettled health district CEO Richard Nakamura by criticizing his presentation of the district’s budgets and balance sheets for the month of April during the regularly scheduled agenda.
During one instance health board chair person Ed Maring had to quiet the crowd after they broke into applause following a statement that spoke of Hurd’s commitment to serving the community.
Interim Director Appointed
Del Puerto Health Care District CEO Richard Nakamura made his recommendation to the board of trustees to release Hurd after he and the board were made privy to certain information before the April 28 board meeting, a day before Hurd was released and Interim Director Paul Willette hired in his place.
Willette has been a paramedic since 1995 and had a career with the Stockton Fire Department that spanned 25 years.
“I understand the employees’ concerns,” Willette said following Monday’s meeting, adding that he has had a lot of experience maximizing the use of limited resources in rural areas.
The quality of service and experience in the community attributed to Hurd, is the same quality of service being demanded by many in the EMS and surrounding communities as well. “You’ve got to have the experience,” Crows Landing Fire Chief Dan Robinson said to the board at Monday’s meeting. “We’re too far from hospitals to have inexperienced people here working.”
Many see the dismissal of Hurd’s service in the district as shocking news considering his tenure and track record of exceptional service. In 2012 Hurd received the Mountain Valley Emergency Medical Services Ageny’s yearly award for Administrator of the year. The Mountain Valley EMSA covers at least four counties including Amador, Calaveras, Mariposa, and Stanislaus.
Hurd’s experience stretches from being an emergency and helicopter dispatcher, to working as a paramedic aboard Medi-Flight helicopters for four years. At one point Hurd himself acted as the CEO of the health care district as appointed by the board. He followed the departure of CEO Margo Arnold, who cited medical reasons for her sudden departure in December of 2010.
He held that position concurrently with his position and roles as Chief of Ambulance Operations for six months, allowing the board enough time to find Arnold’s replacement, Chad Vargas, who served for less than a year before Nakamura took the job in July of 2012.
“It’s a personnel matter,” Nakamura said following the meeting about Hurd’s dismissal. “We have information, and we can’t let that information out to the public, and part of that is to protect [Hurd] himself.”
“It’s basically just a different philosophy,” Nakamura said by phone Tuesday morning. “Everywhere you go, people are brought in to fix things, to change things. I have to look at the health care district as a whole so that we can provide a service to the community. Sometimes people don’t want a change and people see that as a problem.”
Patterson District Ambulance paramedic of 8 years Delya Stoltz is just one of those who see’s the change as a problem, and has experienced them already as well. Stoltz spoke at Monday evening’s board meeting, and while she spoke no ill will of interim ambulance Director Willette, she did mention that his lack of regional accreditation has made her and her colleagues’ job harder, and more dangerous.
“With the absence of [Hurd’s] support, I’m kind of flying without a safety net,” Stoltz said. “The work we do is inherently dangerous. I lift people that exceed my limit, I’m crawling under cars that may be unsafe. There’s no one that can cover my shift if I wrench my back on a call. Right now I feel I’m operating unsafely. With out an accredited paramedic, you lose your back up.”
The accreditation aforementioned is one required of all EMS paramedics that work in a particular district, and classes must be taken every few years to keep this accreditation current in order to be able to work on ambulances such as those within Patterson’s district.
Hurd’s accreditations are current, while his successor, interim director Paul Willette, was hired without the regional accreditations in place, meaning Willette can’t currently jump on and help out in the field if needed during an emergency in the same capacity that Hurd used to.
The effects of Hurd’s dismissal, along with the utilitarian facets of his role with the district, were felt almost immediately.
“The day he was terminated, there was a call off (i.e. call in sick), and Barry always just jumped on the car and covered it. West Side [Ambulance] had to come in because Paul Willette couldn’t,” said Roann Verdie, a 13-year veteran paramedic with Patterson District Ambulance.
The resulting delay in response time caused by the distance between neighboring districts can cause situations during those critical minutes where lives can be saved, and lives can be lost.
Stoltz referred to the recent shootings, stating, “…some had a bad outcome, some had a good outcome. So you have to ask yourself what would have happened if Patterson had to wait for Turlock or Newman’s West Side ambulance?”
According to Stoltz and other area EMT’s, Hurd was the backbone of the ambulance’s daily operation because of his ability to respond to calls at the drop of a dime.
“I have lost the person that had his phone volume on, even at three a.m. in the morning, that would have rushed to the station to relieve me and serve the greater community as well,” Stolz said to the board at Monday’s meeting.
While Interim Director Willette’s lack of regional accreditation may be providing added hurdles for district ambulance employees, it is something that he is already working towards fixing.
“I’m already starting down that path,” Willette said about attaining his regional accreditation following Monday’s meeting, adding that it may take up to two months before completing the requirements needed.
Until then, the toll taken on Patterson’s paramedics seems to worsen beyond Hurd’s dismissal, and according to Stoltz, has affected her time off and personal life.
With out Hurd available to fill in, and because of their strong commitment to service, the remaining paramedics choose to fill in the staffing gaps created by Hurd’s dismissal even though it may keep them from having time for themselves or families.
Stoltz cited a recent instance where there was a call off by a fellow paramedic, whom she chose to cover for instead of taking her day off, and, as a result, missed a visit to see her father in the hospital with her mother.
Her father later suffered from a complication during a surgery, but thankfully everything eventually turned out okay.
“Its a lot of pressure to put on a person if Patterson won’t have an ambulance,” Stoltz explained.
Many present at Monday’s health district board meeting were there to show support for Hurd, who formally requested a grievance procedure hearing to the board regarding his termination during the public comment period.
Lee Almeida vice president of TEMSA-USW Union Local 911, spoke on behalf of the Patterson District Ambulance during the meeting. He informed the board that the Union plans to file charges against the district, first for the district’s failure to negotiate terms in good faith, and second for their refusal to negotiate at all, later citing different tactics used by members of the district and their legal counsel to avoid negotiating.
“We eventually need to sit down and agree on something, but we cannot give away the store to keep them happy,” health care district CEO Nackamura said in a phone interview regarding their negotiations with the union. “Every body wants more, but sometimes you have to say no.”
District Ambulance paramedics disagree, saying they never decided to form a union in order to try and get more from the taxpayers. Patterson’s district ambulance was the last in the county to unionize, and only did so recently following a decision by the board to cut their benefits by 40 percent back in December of 2012.
“We’re trying to keep them from taking money from the lowest compensated paramedics and EMTs in this district,” paramedic and negotiating team member of the union Roann Verdie said. “They are not bargaining in good faith… spending hundreds of thousands of the tax payers dollars to not negotiate with us and try to break the union. There’s nothing we want more than to come up with a contract.”
Many district ambulance paramedics have alluded that Hurd’s dismissal may have stemmed from some sort of fallout from the union negotiations. Community emergency service providers have wasted no time in calling the health care board’s foul regarding Hurd’s termination as did Fire Chief Dan Robinson.
“I don’t know what goes on, or who’s controlling the board, but someone’s making a big mistake,” Robinson said as he addressed the board at Monday’s meeting. “You’re being watched,” he later added, “I’m going to find out what’s going on.”
Elias Funez can be reached at 209-892-6187 or firstname.lastname@example.org.