City on its way to controlling its own emergency medical services

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The Marco Island City Council presented a rare unified front during a special-called meeting Tuesday night when it voted 7-0 to apply for a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity (COPCN).

If the city receives a COPCN, it would operate its own ambulance services, which would, some residents have argued, improve the quality of those services.

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Submitting a COPCN application is part of a three-prong approach that council adopted earlier this year; however, since some county leaders have already voiced their opposition to granting Marco a COPCN, the councilors have begun to pursue another prong, which involves changing state law.

All three members of Collier County's state legislative delegation – Sen. Kathleen Passidomo and Reps. Bob Rommel and Bryon Donalds – voted to support a local bill that would allow municipalities to grant their own COPCNs, but there are a few stipulations.

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First, there must be a referendum about the COPCN on the August 2018 primary election ballot. Second, council must file a COPCN application with the county before the start of the legislative session in January, hence Tuesday’s special-called meeting.

Although all of the councilors expressed support for the application, most still had some thoughts and concerns about it; for instance, councilor Howard Reed said that in order to truly improve the quality of EMS, the city needs to take the issue one step further and look into the possibility of establishing a 24/7 emergency hospital on the island. 

Councilor Larry Honig also had some concerns, and said the councilors need to ask themselves four questions: What are our goals; what are the costs and consequences of achieving those goals; what are some of the best EMS practices in the country and how can we implement them; and what, if any, are the union implications?

Once the councilors figure out the answers to those questions, he said, they need to clearly communicate them to the citizens since they’re the ones who will ultimately pay – both literally and figuratively – for the COPCN.

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Jared Grifoni, City Council chair and creator of the three-prong approach, agreed.

“Anytime you’re talking about an issue of this magnitude, especially when you’re dealing with an expenditure of tax dollars, the public absolutely needs to be a key part of that determination, he said.

Like Honig, Vice-Chair Charlette Roman had some “strong reservations” about the application.

"We still haven't defined the problem we are trying to fix or how our service under our own control will be improved," she said. "We haven't fully vetted the information in the consultant's report or given our citizens enough time to digest the information ... There's been a beating of the drums about getting our own emergency transport services, but precious little discussion on any liabilities or disadvantages to our citizens."

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However, councilor Bob Brown noted that there will be plenty of time to address concerns throughout the application process, and that the first draft of the application is just that: a draft.

"Once the county receives the application, they'll thoroughly vet it and it'll be sent back with their comments, questions and concerns," he said. "So there's going to be multitudes of opportunity for us to communicate back and forth with this."

Councilor Joe Batte agreed, and said that right now the council should simply focus on showing the county that it’s excited to start the application process.

Council unanimously agreed to submit a COPCN application to Collier County no later than Dec. 22. It also unanimously passed a resolution committing the city to place a binding COPCN referendum placed on the Aug. 28 primary ballot.

Dianna Dohm – executive director of the Marco Island Area Chamber of Commerce, president of the Marco Island Fire-Rescue Foundation and prominent supporter of the COPCN – thanked the council for agreeing to submit the COPCN application.

“I would just like to thank all of you for your support … and effort to move this forward,” she said. “Truly. Thank you all for … your concern in making sure we do the right thing, which we are.”

Several other residents at the meeting also expressed their gratitude, but councilor Victor Rios reminded them that submitting the application is just the first, very small step in what could be a very long process.

"Today is like a first baby step," he said. "Really. This is a baby step. And we're going to be crawling for a while before we learn to walk, and I don't know if we're going to make it to the finish line. I hope we do, but it's not going to be easy."

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