NOKOMIS — A crucial emergency service in the Nokomis area has demoted its service level of operations during a special meeting on Thursday, Dec. 21.
Before the meeting, the service operated on an Advanced Life Support (ALS) level of operations. The proposal on the table was to downgrade operations to a Basic Life Support (BLS) level of care.
The board of directors of the Nokomis-Witt Area Ambulance Service (NWAAS) allowed for public comments for roughly two hours as the board attempted to answer questions from the public about one of the main issues that were part of the meeting’s agenda: changing the level of care the service will provide.
Nokomis Commissioner asks board crucially important questions
Nokomis Commissioner Michael Glenn delivered questions in written form to be answered by the board:
Why did the board not go to the maximum rate on the tax levy, according to the Montgomery County Clerk, as this could have brought in $35,000 or more in additional revenue per year. You only raised it by 0.05 percent.
A board member said that they had missed the deadline to file for the increased levy. As a result, they won’t be able to do so again until June 2025. Even if they maximized the tax levy they are seeking, they would need approval by the Montgomery County Board. Increasing the levy that the ambulance service can receive would also require a Truth in Taxation hearing.
Has the board made a claim to the county’s insurance carrier for “errors and omissions” coverage as it relates to the billing problem that their employee caused? If not, what is the deadline, and why was this not done? An attorney will take the claim on a contingency basis with no money upfront, I am sure.
There was a problem with the line of communication between a former manager and accounting. The manager overspent their budget. Vacation time was rewritten without board approval. Another issue was that the service had two FEIN (Federal Employer Identification Number) numbers. One was canceled by the board. The service began using a different billing service.
Unfortunately, the county’s billing service sent a letter to Medicaid and Medicare using the former FEIN number. This would present red flags for the state and federal governments. All payments were frozen.
It has taken 6-8 months to rectify the issue, with a lot of previously billed bills through the county being resent to Medicare and Medicaid, as well as private insurance. Unfortunately, there is a large number of outstanding bills that are far too late to rebill. The lost revenue comes to around $26,000.
Glenn would like the board to hire an attorney to recover this lost revenue. The board will be in contact with Trent West.
If we must go to a lower level of care (not full paramedic), is it not extremely difficult to get re-licensed for the higher level again?
Because of the outstanding community support, the board is trying really hard to keep the service viable. The goal is to continue being able to transport patients and to provide 24-hour coverage for the service area. Currently, the service only employs two full-time employees. Everyone else is a first responder. Basic EMTs and paramedics are volunteers. The board is considering a transition to a BLS compared to the existing ALS.
The ambulance service’s current financial situation makes it unable to hire more paid employees. The transition to a BLS with upgrade capabilities will allow them to transport and call in for ALS support if requiring transport.
You have been carrying a $50,000 operating loan for years, which you have been unable to pay off. What is the plan to increase revenue?
The service has had tremendous support from the community, receiving $85,000 in donations. This would allow for the $50,000 line of credit (LOC) through Security National Bank of Witt to be paid off in November.
Since paying off the line of credit, they’ve had to take out another $50,000 LOC. The service is requesting emergency payments from the state for charges to Medicaid, but no answer has been received at this time.
Board immediately enters an executive session
After just over two hours of public comment, Board President Dennis Aumann asked for a motion to enter a closed executive session. As there was no published agenda made available for the meeting, Nokomis Mayor Dylan Goldsmith inquired under what statute of the Illinois Open Meetings Act the board is going to executive session on and the subject matter of the session.
Aumann said that NWAAS does not fall under a status requiring compliance with the Open Meetings Act, which was incorrect. All taxing bodies in the Land of Lincoln are subject to the Open Meetings Act. He also told Goldsmith that the closed session was to discuss personnel and changing the level of service. The allegation of not needing to be compliant with the Open Meetings Act came from their lawyer.
After a two-and-a-half-hour executive session, the board announced the following actions:
- The issuance of a $200 bonus for both of their full-time employees and $100 for the treasurer and secretary.
- Downgraded operations to a volunteer basic transport (BLS) with upgrade capabilities pending paperwork approval by HSHS St. John’s Hospital.
- Transition to a two-week pay period from weekly, running from Sunday to Saturday. The first paycheck under the new setup will be effective as of New Year’s Day.
Non-compliance with the Illinois Open Meetings Act
The Open Meetings Act (5 ILCS 120/1.02) references all “public bodies” as any legislative, executive, administrative, or advisory bodies of the state, counties, townships, cities, villages, incorporated towns, school districts, and all other municipal corporations, boards, bureaus, committees, or commissions of the state. It also references subsidiary bodies in any of the above-mentioned including committees and sub-committees supported in part or in full by taxpayer dollars.
As NWAAS is a taxing body that receives a portion of tax dollars from taxpayers in Coalton, Fillmore, Nokomis, Ohlman, Wenonah, and Witt, as well as Audubon, Fillmore Consolidated, Nokomis, Rountree, and Witt townships, they are subject to provisions under the Open Meetings Act.
Furthermore, it appears that the NWAAS board was also non-compliant with the Open Meetings Act by discussing changing services to a BLS in an executive session. It should have been a matter of continued discussion during the open session, per the Open Meetings Act:
(a) Openness required. All meetings of public bodies shall be open to the public unless excepted in subsection (c) and closed in accordance with Section 2a.
(b) Construction of exceptions. The exceptions contained in subsection (c) are in derogation of the requirement that public bodies meet in the open, and therefore, the exceptions are to be strictly construed, extending only to subjects clearly within their scope. The exceptions authorize but do not require the holding of a closed meeting to discuss a subject included within an enumerated exception.
(c) Exceptions. A public body may hold closed meetings to consider the following subjects:
(1) The appointment, employment, compensation, discipline, performance, or dismissal of specific employees of the public body or legal counsel for the public body, including hearing testimony on a complaint lodged against an employee of the public body or against legal counsel for the public body to determine its validity.
(2) Collective negotiating matters between the public body and its employees or their representatives, or deliberations concerning salary schedules for one or more classes of employees.
(3) The selection of a person to fill a public office, as defined in this Act, including a vacancy in a public office, when the public body is given power to appoint under law or ordinance, or the discipline, performance or removal of the occupant of a public office, when the public body is given power to remove the occupant under law or ordinance.
(4) Evidence or testimony presented in open hearing, or in closed hearing where specifically authorized by law, to a quasi-adjudicative body, as defined in this Act, provided that the body prepares and makes available for public inspection a written decision setting forth its determinative reasoning. (
5) The purchase or lease of real property for the use of the public body, including meetings held for the purpose of discussing whether a particular parcel should be acquired.
(6) The setting of a price for sale or lease of property owned by the public body.
(7) The sale or purchase of securities, investments, or investment contracts.
(8) Security procedures and the use of personnel and equipment to respond to an actual, a threatened, or a reasonably potential danger to the safety of employees, students, staff, the public, or public property.
(9) Student disciplinary cases.
(10) The placement of individual students in special education programs and other matters relating to individual students.
(11) Litigation, when an action against, affecting or on behalf of the particular public body has been filed and is pending before a court or administrative tribunal, or when the public body finds that an action is probable or imminent, in which case the basis for the finding shall be recorded and entered into the minutes of the closed meeting.Illinois Open Meetings Act (5 ILCS 120/2), in part
Jake Leonard, a broadcast media and journalism veteran, is the editor-in-chief of Heartland Newsfeed. Leonard is also GM and program director of Heartland Newsfeed Radio Network, wrestling editor and contributing writer for Ambush Sports, a contributing writer for My Sports Vote and Midwest Sports Network, and a former contributor to Bleacher Report and Overtime Heroics. He resides at home in Nokomis, Ill. with his dog Buster.