Council approves agreement with NSHC to take over ambulance services

The Nome Common Council signed off on a Memorandum of Agreement with Norton Sound Health Corporation to take over ground ambulance services, currently run by the city’s volunteer ambulance department. In January, the council had decided to relinquish the service to NSHC. The city had run the Nome Volunteer Ambulance Department since 1996, but an uptick in complaints from the public regarding lagging response times and a smaller pool of ambulance volunteers forced the council to weigh the pros and cons for a city-run ambulance vis-à-vis an ambulance service operated by NSHC.
The city and NSHC have been negotiating an agreement and last Monday it was presented to the Council for approval. The target date to finalize the takeover was at NSHC’s request moved from April 15 to April 30, said City Manager Glenn Steckman. The agreement provides that NSHC is the only licensed provider of ambulance services in Nome for a period of five years, with the option to renew up to another five years. The agreement can be terminated by either the city or NSHC for any reason with 90 days written notice. The city agrees to cancel with the state the Alaska Medicaid and Medicare Provider enrollment; to revoke its ambulance certification with the state. In the agreement, the city commits to loan NSHC its two ambulances at no cost; one ambulance will be returned by a July date, the other will be used by NSHC until July 2025. The agreement spells out that the ambulance services will be provided within city limits, and outside areas where NVAD responded to.  
The agreement also spells out that NSHC conducts an outreach program “targeting Nome’s homeless population and those suffering chronic alcoholism, substance abuse and mental health issues,” the agreement says. “NSHC agrees to use staff (EMTs) to interact with the homeless population as a regular aspect of their workday schedule.”
According to the agreement, NSHC will provide 24/7 coverage, and will schedule two qualified staff for 12-hour shifts.
Under a mutual aid agreement, Nome Volunteer Fire Department would assist if NSHC requests help to lift or move victims, and it will pay NVFD at a rate of $15 per hour. NSHC agrees to provide ambulance services to any fire dispatch call at no cost.
The city agrees to provide police back-up when requested.
Over the weekend, Steckman said, changes were made to the version of the agreement that was in the council packet and included changed language saying that the Nome Police Chief, the Fire Chief and the Dispatch Supervisor would meet with NSHC ground ambulance supervisory staff “to discuss both successes and areas in need of improvement” at least once a year.
Councilmember Henderson asked if the council should wait until NSHC had approved those changes, but City Manager Steckman urged the passage of the resolution so that transitional steps can be taken in time for the April 30 takeover.
Related, the council discussed whether it should repeal an ordinance that created the ambulance department. The city’s lawyer Sam Severin advised the council that the ordinance would create liability issues for the city if it has an ordinance on the books that says the city provides ground ambulance services when it doesn’t. The repeal of the ordinance was tabled to the next meeting.  
In other business, the council passed a resolution to award a contract for a new radio system to Arctcom, a Bering Straits Native Corporation subsidiary, to purchase and install a new radio system for police and 911 emergency services. Arctcom was the only bidder and quoted a cost of just over $951,000. The council unanimously voted to award the contract to Arctcom. Steckman said the goal is install the system this summer.
In public comment, Trinh Johnson brought concerns to the council relating to the Nome Police Department and how it handles sexual assault cases, especially those involving minors; she also brought up a separate incident involving her son, who was confronted by police officers as he was in his mother’s coffee shop at night with friends. Police apparently responded to a call of an alleged break-in when indeed Johnson’s son was in his mom’s shop, not committing any crime. Johnson brought this incident, which happened last fall and the separate sexual assault case involving victims who confided in her, to the council in hopes to affect change. She objected to the manner her son was treated by NPD and questioned why the separate sexual assault case was not prosecuted. She had brought the same complaint to last week’s Public Safety Advisory Committee. Mayor Handeland said he would communicate with the Nome Police Chief about the sexual assault case. Following Johnson’s comments, Nome Police Department employee Kelly Corns stepped to the podium and defended the police department. She said complaints against the department are out of hand. “We are getting trained by the Department of Public Safety in the state of Alaska. And then if we go and do what we’re supposed to be doing, then there’s nothing that we can do right. If there's a case that needs to be looked at … Sharon Sparks and I were not aware of that. We are on it nonstop trying to do the right thing. I don't know how much more we can take. We’re losing officers because of this. And it’s just very mentally straining on everybody.”
In council member comments Mark Johnson added to the topic, correcting a quote in an article printed in last week’s Nugget. The article quoted him stating that in a meeting with the city manager and acting police chief he was deterred from filing a complaint. “We met with acting chief [Will] Crockett and city manager Steckman. They both said that they would look further into the issue but also encouraged us to write a written complaint if we wanted to. So I did not feel like I was deterred from writing a formal complaint. After the meeting, we were not convinced that what should be done and I decided not to write a formal complaint at the time since the city was in the process of hiring a new chief.” Johnson wanted to wait until a new chief was hired “to address the issue, and have a different set of eyes on it.” Acting NPD Chief Crockett subsequently was hired as the permanent Nome Police Chief. The Johnsons then took the issue to the public safety advisory committee last week. “This was the first meeting available to do so since the incident happened last fall,” Johnson said. “They’re very receptive to listening to our and others complaints and issues, and encouraged us to write a formal written complaint to look further into the issue with the police chief.”
He added that he recently witnessed an interaction with a police officer and a young lady on the street and found the officer’s tone and demeanor not acceptable. “We are a small town, not Los Angeles, or Portland or some city in Ohio,” Johnson said. “We need to remind these officers that they are public servants in a small town.”  


The Nome Nugget

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Nome, Alaska 99762

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