NVAD crew seeks help to solve contract dispute
The Nome Common Council March 27 meeting opened business on Monday evening with a swearing-in ceremony of four new officers who have joined the Nome Police Dept.
Police Chief John Papasodora conducted the “repeat after me” ceremony while beaming families and friends clicked away with cameras. Papasodora stepped forward, followed by Mayor Richard Beneville, to welcome the quartet with the upraised right hands: Ofc. Crystal Toolie, Community Service Officer Tomas Paniataaq, Ofc. Casey Johnson and Ofc. Cordell Murray. Ofc. Wade Harrison has also joined the force, but did not take part in Monday’s ceremony.
The new officers swore to uphold their duties “without fear, favor or partiality” before a packed council chamber; friends, relatives, mixed in with people who came to support a work session presentation by Disability Abuse Response Team, or DART, mixed in with citizens concerned about school funding, mixed in with a group of frustrated volunteers roasting in Day-Glo green Nome Volunteer Ambulance Department uniform jackets.
Ambulance volunteers took the podium during public comment to seek the Council’s help in ironing out financial disagreements over ambulance service reimbursements they say have had a big part in the NVAD operating without a contract with Norton Sound Health Corporation for over a year. They also wanted to provide information to Councilman Stan Andersen, who represents the City as a member of the NSHC Board of Directors. No other NSHC representatives attended the meeting.
The NVAD issue was not an agenda item.
NVAD members Tom Vaden and Victoria Erickson, director, explained from the podium that the ambulance was at times not paid any or sometimes only part of the fee for transporting patients, an amount depending on level of service and whether the person was a commercial insurance carrier, an Indian Health Service beneficiary, a Medicare carrier or a person without insurance. The basic fee for basic life support is $625, according to Erickson. For elders and seniors, the hospital pays the Medicare rate, less than $625, she said. NVAD bills the patient for the portion of the fee remaining unpaid, not NSHC, which says the fee is too high, according to Erickson. If the person is an Indian Health Service beneficiary, NSHC decides how much of the IHS reimbursement to pay to the NVAD, according to Erickson. NSHC had not paid for several quarters, she said.
Vaden, who no longer is employed by NSHC as a trainer, asked the Council to establish Nome Volunteer Ambulance Dept. the Emergency Service 911 response. He observed that Nome, the villages and Norton Sound Health Corp. should be working together for the region.
NVAD needs full reimbursement, according to volunteers who spoke, to pay for uniforms that protect volunteers from blood-borne pathogens and against the elements in rescue operations, for medical equipment, for utilities, for other costs.
“We put in considerable hours,” Erickson said. Fourteen volunteers put in 1,320 hours in the past month. “I average 160 hours a month,” Erickson said. The contract conflict had dropped morale very low.
Andersen, NSHC board member and council member was just one person, Councilman Mark Johnson pointed out (attending by phone).
“Stan is one board member. This is a big deal for Nome and the whole region. We need the whole Council and the whole board to meet,” Johnson said.
Such a meeting would be open to the public.
“There is no cooperation and someone is responsible,” Councilman Louis Green Sr. chimed in.
Andersen said that NSHC board meetings were open; however, no one had come to talk to the board, which meets four times a year for several days.
However, some NSHC board meetings occur out of town. The next will meet in Spokane, Wash.
The Council and the volunteers asked Andersen if he could produce NSHC board members to have a sit-down with the Council to explore the positions on each side of the impasse in an educational session. Andersen thought he could.
John Handeland, an ambulance volunteer with 26 years of service, attempted to cast oil on the troubled waters.
“When you malign an organization it is not always easy to get cooperation,” he said, making reference to some in the community referring to the hospital throughout the years as a “Band-Aid station.”
“If we can find a way to bury the hatchet on some things, maybe it could work out, maybe with more people involved it could work out,” he said. “Let’s move on; it’s not about them and us; it’s about all of us.”
Ambulance volunteer Wes Perkins spoke at length from the podium. He agreed that a meeting board to board would be a good idea, that perhaps there had not been perfect communication between the NSHC administrators and NSHC board of directors.
Ken Hughes rose to say that employees had been severely reprimanded by administrators for talking to the NSHC board members. He observed that “some board members do not have institutional history on how things are run.”
In other business, the Council:
• Adopted the Port of Nome Tariff 13 that will apply during the upcoming shipping season and replace all other tariffs.
• Voted into first reading an ordinance creating Ch. 14 of the Nome Code of Ordinances to regulate the Nome Municipal Cemetery.
• Voted into first reading an ordinance exempting sale of pull tabs from a four-month summer season seven percent sales tax, where sales tax will remain at five percent.
• Passed a resolution rescinding one taxicab license from EZ Enterprises LLC and one taxicab license from Nome Checker Cab LLC to reduce the number of permits consistent with the market. Rodney Jones, owner of Nome Checker Cab, objected strenuously that another cab company had, with City’s knowledge, broken the law in two situations, one allegedly involving an unpermitted driver for two years, thus essentially “stealing” from other cab companies.
• Approved a resolution approving a contract with Altman, Rogers & Co. for audit services for Fiscal year 2017.
• Approved a resolution awarding bids from a March 23 surplus vehicle auction for unclaimed, forfeited and abandoned vehicles—a 1998 Dodge pickup to Emory Charles Wheeler for $331.