Chief Erickson resigns NVAD after 24 years of service
A standing-room-only crowd filed into City Hall Monday evening for a meeting that lasted three hours. School funding and a Nome Volunteer Ambulance Dept. contract with Norton Sound Health Corp. drew many people to the podium during public comment.
Additional money for schools is up in the air until the state House of Representatives adopts a budget, but school administrators, facing a shortfall of over a million dollars or more have been preparing for drastic cuts to the programs and teacher layoffs. The Nome Common Council has not yet taken up a tentative budget; however, the panel planned to meet with the school officials on April 12 at noon. Teachers, parents and young students pleaded with the Council to make school money a priority and to allow art, the librarian and physical education to stay in the school budget. The Council must set the school contribution by May 31. Some said they would be willing to pay more property tax if it would benefit the schools.
Ambulance volunteers and Council members asked for a resolution and acknowledgement of Vickie Erickson’s 24 years of service to NVAD. Erickson, chief for the past six years, gave a letter of resignation to City Manager Tom Moran, dated April 4. Her letter praised ambulance volunteers.
“I would like to highlight that over 24 years I have worked with some of the most amazing people I have ever met who day after day have sacrificed their lives and families to serve the City. It is these people who deserve the highest thanks,” Erickson said.
Ambulance might be in Erickson’s blood. She began volunteering on an ambulance crew in Skagway in 1989 and 1990.
“I started because my dad had started the ambulance service in my home town in Oregon. My sister had taken an EMT course. I thought, ‘Someday, I am going to be an EMT [Emergency Medical Technician].’ I’d watch my dad; he’d get home late, be called out. In our little town the road system covered hundreds and hundreds of miles-down by the Oregon, Idaho and Nevada border, where I grew up. There are lots of desert and long flat highways. If people were really critical, he was the only pilot, so he would fly people in his airplane to the hospital—his little airplane he had just for fun.” Erickson had taken the most ambulance calls, and received many awards, as has the NVAD group, Charlie Lean, retired ambulance volunteer, said. “She has kept the ambulance rolling. It’s a big loss to the City to lose people with that much dedication,” Lean said. “Whether you think she did a good job or not, you are not going to find someone to replace her.”
“We lost one heck of a person,” Tom Vaden said during public comment. “She has received the Governor’s Award twice. This woman has given her heart and soul to the ambulance.” Vaden felt it was a hostile takeover by NSHC, that the City was going to lose the ambulance, and he said so Monday evening.
The City has been working on a contract with NSHC concerning the ambulance for nearly two years, according to Tom Moran. Two weeks ago, the Council in a meeting said they would like to meet with the NSHC Board of Directors to talk about the ambulance issues, including payment by the hospital for ambulance services.
That did not happen.
However, Moran met with NSHC CEO Angie Gorn in a meeting that included three ambulance volunteers and an EMT last week, but without Vickie Erickson, chief. The hospital had signed off on a memorandum of understanding; the ambulance volunteers would have an opportunity to see the document Tuesday, according to Moran.
The Council did not have copies of the MOU nor did the public. He got everything he asked for in negotiations, Moran said. Lean, still an ex officio member of the NVAD, had a copy. He acknowledged that the MOU had some good points, but did not have a clear line of control over ambulance runs identifying a protocol and standard of procedure seated in the person with the highest medical training certification on the run. It appeared some persons on a call might be employees under NSHC jurisdiction.
For the sake of volunteers, the City needed to maintain control, he said. “If it is a city agency, the City should control it, control the protocols, control the equipment. The paramedic needs to be the boss. Their certification is on the line.”
Moran was disappointed that Erickson had resigned just when the ambulance situation was being resolved. The contract was not something the ambulance volunteers had to address. The contract would come through attorneys. Councilman Mark Johnson asked if the contract would come before the Council.
It was a managerial decision and did not need the Council, Moran said.
Angela Gorn, NSHC CEO, also attended the meeting and read prepared comments from the podium. NSHC and NVAD had negotiated an MOU for in-town ambulance runs effective May 1, she said. NSHC expressed gratitude for City of Nome ambulance volunteers.
“NSHC is a collaborative organization, open to working with you” she said. “The new contract will show the spirit of collaboration and NSHC looks forward to working with the City to continue with the quality program the City provides.” She plans to visit the Council periodically at meetings to update on NSHC improvements.
The meeting opened with NPD Chief John Papasodora swearing in a new member of the Nome Police Dept., Officer Wade Harrison.
In other business, the Council:
• Adopted an ordinance regulating the Nome Municipal Cemetery. An amendment had the buck stop at the city manager or his designee’s desk, rather than the Dept. of Parks and Recreation as stated in the ordinance at first reading.
• Voted down an ordinance exempting pull-tabs from a seasonal sales tax of 7 percent during May through August, three no votes, one yes, one abstention. Had the ordinance been adopted, tax on pull-tabs would have remained 5 percent year around. An amendment posed by Councilman Lew Tobin to exempt heating fuel as well as pull-tabs failed. “If you’re going to exempt gaming, you should exempt something concrete and needed by the people,” Tobin said.
• Passed a resolution supporting passage of Senate Bill 100 authorizing municipal liens. Passage would give the City authority to adopt an ordinance to allow the City to file liens against real property owned by people delinquent in utility bills or to recover costs of abatement of rundown or abandoned buildings. An Alaska Supreme Court decision in 2012 ruled that cities and boroughs did not have this authority without a specific state law. He had been part of a group seeking a state law, Brooks Chandler, the City’s attorney, said in an agenda statement, not expecting a bill in the hopper until 2018. However, “the Anchorage lobbyist was able to find a sponsor [Sen. Dennis Egan] who has introduced SB 100,” Chandler said. “Part of the plan to have the bill adopted is to show it is not just a bunch of lawyers sitting around thinking about how to make the world a better place. No one cares about that but they would care about elected officials saying they want the law changed,” Chandler wrote.