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The Villages
Monday, September 27, 2021

An open letter to the Sumter County commissioners

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Susan Ridgeway

Sumter County Board of Commissioners:

In a few short weeks you will be voting to determine the future of how the two fire departments operate and how medical ambulance transport will be handled in Sumter County.  Previously, Mr. Arnold prepared a list of 10 options that could be considered and this Board appointed an ad hoc advisory committee to study those options.  The option which is overwhelmingly supported by your constituents (those to whom you were elected to represent) is Option 9 – leaving the fire departments to continue to operate separately and to put the ambulance service within each of the fire services. 

There are no other options that would ensure timely response and transport of patients in The Villages and Sumter County. The contractual agreement with the current provider, AMR, should not be continued.  Public records obtained show AMR has failed to meet its compliance requirements going back to the beginning of the agreement in 2011. From October 2011 through July 2013 AMR failed to meet or even come close to the required 90 percent for on time compliance (Source: AMR chart titled “Sumter County EMS Compliance” attached) yet AMR was allowed to continue operating without penalty.  Additionally, a sampling of reports supplied by AMR (Source: “AMR Sumter Compliance Report” for periods of June 2018, May 2019 and January 2020 attached) show if not for exceptions and exemptions that were approved, AMR was still not meeting the 90% contractual agreement for response time.  In reviewing invoices from AMR that were included in the records request, I found only three (3) incidents where AMR was penalized either $2,500 or $5,000 for non-compliance of on time response.  How then was the agreement with AMR allowed to continue for 10 years?

The county’s contract administrator is the Assistant County Administrator, Stephen Kennedy, who was hired by Sumter County in December 2011. In 2011 at the beginning of the contract the manager for AMR was Christine Hill who continues in that position today but is now known as Christine Kennedy or Mrs. Stephen Kennedy and the wife of the County’s contract administrator. Mrs. Kennedy noted her name change in June 2016 on the signature line of her correspondence. It should be noted that exemptions and exceptions to compliance of the contract are approved or denied by the Contract Administrator. This should have raised a red flag to a conflict of interest that was not in the best interest of Sumter County or its residents.  It was not until December 2017 that a Conflict-of-Interest clause was added to the AMR contract which was renewed without seeking proposals from other ambulance companies and without following the County’s own purchasing policies.  How was it then that the BOCC in December 2017 approved the contract extension unanimously thus allowing this clear conflict of interest to continue?  I have to question if the Commissioners at that time were even aware of the conflict.  An Executive Summary is prepared for the Commissioners which notes changes or highlights of what the Commissioners will be voting on. The Executive Summary dated December 12, 2017 (attached) points out several changes in the new agreement including a change to the communications center, fee structure, a service level agreement and other changes but fails to note the new Paragraph L. Conflict of Interest Waiver (attached).  If the Commissioners at the time (this would include Commissioners Breeden and Gilpin) only read the executive summary and not the entire new agreement they may not have known about the conflict. This conflict of interest certainly was not in the best interest of the residents of Sumter County.  The executive summary presented to the Commissioners in December 2017 was prepared by Stephen Kennedy. The conflict-of-interest paragraph states that the Contractor (Mrs. Kennedy) and the County (Mr. Kennedy) would be responsible for determining if their relationship (and marital status) adversely affects their obligations under the contract and confer with each other to determine if a conflict exists.  This situation continued until March 12, 2019 (Source: Executive Summary attached) when “due to changes in organizational structure and responsibility… Stephen Kennedy will no longer serve as contract administrator for the ambulance service.” 

The letter you received from the chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee, David Bussone, recommends keeping the two fire departments separate but that Sumter County provide in-house countywide (which includes The Villages) medical transport services.  This would put the County Administrator back in the position of determining the future of the ambulance service instead of the two current fire chiefs. I believe the past 10 years have demonstrated that the Sumter County Administrator is not the person who should be making this decision and furthermore is not a subject matter expert.  Both fire chiefs at the time in 2010/2011 advised not to go with a contractor to provide ambulance service but Mr. Arnold thought he knew best and forged ahead causing the untenable situation that exists today. The two current fire chiefs are the ones who should be making the decision on the future of the ambulance service provided to those they are serving – residents of The Villages and residents of Sumter County.

In closing, Option 9 is the best and only option that should be considered by you for your constituents.

Susan Ridgeway is a resident of The Villages.

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