In the midst of a heated debate over Liberty Township's emergency medical services, two township residents are ready to take the reins soon to be left behind by medical director Dr. Warren Yamarick.
In a deal approved by township trustees Jan. 22, Ohio State University will provide medical direction for Liberty Township beginning Friday, Feb. 1, and will appoint its own team as medical directors.
The Ohio State medical directors will take the place of Yamarick, who has been with the township for 28 years. Yamarick's contract was not extended after he was critical of proposed changes to the township's EMS service.
At a Jan. 7 meeting, Trustee Melanie Leneghan barred Yamarick from speaking and had him escorted from the premises. Yamarick responded by filing a civil-rights lawsuit against Leneghan personally, citing First Amendment violations.
The agreement will cost the township $34,544 next year at a rate of $239.89 per hour -- a significant increase from Yamarick's $6,000 salary in 2018.
Leneghan and Trustee Mike Gemperline voted in favor of the deal, while Trustee Shyra Eichhorn voted against it.
Eichhorn said her objections were less about Ohio State and more about the process. She said she wasn't given the proposal until about 24 hours before it was voted on.
"OSU Wexner Medical Center is a fantastic organization, but when you're talking about a process where one of the three elected officials receives a contract less than 24 hours before its approval and never meets with anyone at Ohio State, it's a problem," she said.
The agreement appoints OSU's Dr. Ashish Panchal as acting medical director, but Dr. Daniel Bachmann and Dr. Nicholas Kman will work in conjunction with Panchal as associate medical directors.
Kman said the leadership group will be "assessing the needs" of Liberty fire and EMS before arriving at more "succinct" titles but said he expects Panchal to oversee medical direction and protocol, while Kman and Bachmann will have a hands-on focus on improvement, emergency preparedness and education.
Bachmann and Kman are Liberty Township residents, and both said they have been closely following the ongoing EMS and medical-director debates.
"Nick and I are both residents of Liberty Township and Dr. Panchal lives in Dublin, just a little outside the township," Bachmann said, "so we really got involved as residents with this, initially, and we share a lot of the same concerns as some of the township residents do."
Both men have extensive disaster-response experience, and both have worked for task forces with the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Bachmann responded to Hurricane Matthew in 2007 and Hurricane Florence last year; Kman responded to Hurricane Harvey in 2017.
With that history in mind, Kman said the two men are as equipped as anyone to handle emergency services, especially in their own community.
"We spend the whole time with a team of firefighters and medics," Kman said. "We really care about emergency preparedness and emergency medical services within a community. So we've been following this closely from the first meeting.
"Obviously, there are a lot of tentacles to this issue and a lot of mistrust on either side," he said, "but I think our interest in the issue is genuine from the standpoint of concerned citizens who are emergency providers who want the best possible care for our community. We got involved with the idea that these jobs are important to our community."
One of Eichhorn's major concerns over OSU's appointment was that most emergency runs in Liberty Township don't go to Ohio State hospitals.
"Eighty percent of our runs go to OhioHealth hospitals," she said, noting that she advocated for a deal with OhioHealth.
Kman and Bachmann said one of the first things they noticed when researching the conversation around EMS in Liberty Township was the misconception that an Ohio State medical director would be in alignment with a certain hospital.
According to Kman, it's "absolutely not the case" that more runs will go to Ohio State hospitals because of their appointment.
"Our involvement from Ohio State should not change where the runs should go," he said. "I heard that (misconception) from people who actually know this pretty well. ... Patients go to nearby hospitals based on the illness they have, the nearest hospital, what protocol says and what those hospitals can provide. ... We know the emergency medical facilities in the area really well."
Panchal also is the medical director for Delaware County EMS, which makes about 20 percent of the mutual-aid runs requested by the township each year -- the largest among other entities.
Bachmann said that connection isn't too important, however.
Instead, he said the collaboration among existing Ohio State connections throughout the area will be key, as will getting to know the professionals in area leadership roles with whom they'll be collaborating.
"What's probably more important is just maintaining a good relationship with all the medical directors in the whole region and trying to establish universal protocols and consistency among the communities that provide mutual aid," he said.