Olentangy Valley News

Liberty Township

Trustee clarifies position on zoo EMS services

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Last month, Liberty Township Trustee Melanie Leneghan called for the township to cut costs by passing emergency medical services for the Columbus Zoo off to Delaware County.

But at the board of trustees' meeting Monday, April 1, Leneghan softened her stance.

Her initial comments were made at the March 18 meeting, when she said Delaware County -- not Liberty Township -- should attend to the medical needs of zoo visitors.

Delaware County EMS is obligated to cover all parts of the county not covered by a local municipality, and Liberty Township sales-tax dollars help fund the county EMS program.

Leneghan argued it isn't fair for Liberty Township residents to "pay twice" to cover the zoo, since the majority of visitors aren't township residents.

Her suggestion was condemned by other township officials, who said it would break a decades-long, mutually beneficial partnership and up the current four-minute response time to 12 minutes or more.

The nearest county medic is stationed much farther away than the medic at Liberty Township's Sawmill Parkway fire station.

At the March 18 meeting, Leneghan said the response time is "irrelevant" in light of the township's recent struggles to fund fire and EMS services. She said she doesn't check on EMS response times when visiting zoos or amusement parks in other communities.

Warren Yamarick, the township's medical director, responded to those comments at the April 1 meeting. He called Leneghan's idea "irresponsible."

"How can (response times) be irrelevant when we're talking about patient care and safety?" he said.

But Leneghan responded she never intended to suggest a 12-minute response time is acceptable.

"Delaware County should either do it right and provide a four-minute response time, or we should hold them to (better compensation)," Leneghan said.

"I'm not saying 12 minutes is fine," she said. "I'm saying Delaware County should do it or pay for it."

That's in line with recent comments from Chairman Curt Sybert, who called on the county to give the township a bigger chunk of sales-tax revenue.

In 2012, the county pulled in $43.8 million in sales-tax revenue. Last year, Liberty Township received just $237,236 for EMS services in the form of per-run compensation.

"The model's broken and it needs fixed," Sybert said April 1. "We pay our fair share and we're not getting our fair share back."

County officials declined to respond directly to Sybert's charge last month, but County Administrator Tim Hansley said negotiations are scheduled to begin soon.

Yamarick and Fire Chief Tim Jensen said that in exchange for providing services to the zoo, township paramedics receive invaluable training opportunities.

The township regularly uses facilities at the zoo and the adjacent Zoombezi Bay water park to train for rescues in water, enclosed spaces and other situations. Paramedics were even recently trained to treat snake bites by zoo staff, Yamarick said.

Township Fiscal Officer Mark Gerber also said the township would save little if any money by cutting out zoo runs, since it wouldn't warrant changes to overall operations or staffing levels.

Last year, Liberty Township made 67 medical runs and four fire runs to the zoo, accounting for about 3.29 percent of runs for 2012.

John Gannon, senior vice president of operations for the Columbus Zoo and Zoombezi Bay, said the township and zoo both benefit from the current partnership.

"We rely on them to complement our own safety and security services," he said.

He added the zoo would not be comfortable with delayed response times for medical emergencies.

"We have anywhere from 2.2 to 2.4 million visitors per year, when you include the water park. That's like a little city," he said. "We see heart attacks, seizures, allergic reactions. People can die in the difference between four and 12 minutes."

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