By Bob Uphues
Three months after receiving three proposals for paramedic services, North Riverside trustees appear ready to extend the village's contract with Paramedic Services of Illinois (PSI) for another five years, even though the company's proposal was the more expensive option.
On Nov. 18, a majority of the village board said they would vote in favor of extending the deal with PSI, which has provided paramedic services for the village for more than three decades.
But that extension was conditioned on the village administration pledging to explore the North Riverside Firefighters Union Local 2714 proposal to hire full-time and part-time paramedics in order to wean the village from its reliance on a private company.
Two of the paramedic proposals submitted to the village on Aug. 16 were from private firms, PSI and Metro Paramedic Services. Each submitted a proposal for a five-year contract, with Metro's price coming in at $2,415,441, compared to PSI's $2,530,200.
North Riverside Firefighters Union 2714 also submitted a proposal to staff the village ambulances with part-time paramedics, but the proposal didn't meet the requirements of the village's request.
A quick calculation performed by the village's fire chief, but not submitted to the administration prior to Nov. 18, indicated such a proposal could cost an estimated $2.1 million over five years, but Finance Director Sue Scarpiniti said she couldn't vouch for the figures.
The union's proposal was inspired by the village of Bensenville's solution for paramedic staffing, employing in-house full- and part-time paramedics. Trustees Terri Sarro and Joseph Mengoni said that option was worth exploring after visiting Bensenville's fire department to get more information.
It was Sarro and Mengoni who pushed for a deeper look at the in-house option before agreeing to an extension for PSI, for now.
"How and when can we develop a timetable for how we look at all these other options for paramedics?" Sarro asked. "If five years is the best way to go about it, because we lock in rates, then I don't have an issue with that. But I don't want this [in-house option] to fall by the wayside."
Fire Chief John Kiser suggested naming a task force of village staff, elected officials and firefighters to explore future staffing options. But, he urged trustees to nail down a paramedic contract now, saying that continuing to put it off was dangerous.
With only three paramedics assigned full time by PSI to North Riverside, and with PSI's contract extension twisting in the wind, Kiser said it was becoming difficult to convince contract paramedics to commit to being assigned permanently to North Riverside.
While the village's ambulance is fully staffed each shift, the turnover in personnel on those shifts is enormous, Kiser said. He also suggested extending PSI's contract at this time to avoid a change that could result in an all-new crew of paramedics being assigned to North Riverside.
"My biggest concern is that, right now, we're significantly down on manpower on our ambulance, and that's dangerous," Kiser said.
Trustees H. Bob Demopoulos and Marybelle Mandel opposed extending PSI's contract, with Demopoulos proposing to throw out the proposals the village accepted in August and seek new ones, even though PSI's latest proposal represents a decrease in the fee the village now pays.
In fiscal year 2019-20, North Riverside budgeted $523,000 for paramedic services. Over five years, such a fee would equate to $2,615,000.
"As a businessman, if I got this, I'd laugh and say, 'See you later. Go somewhere else," Demopoulos said of PSI's August proposal. "I'd take it as a slap in the face."
Demopoulos said that by rejecting the proposals and seeking new ones, the companies would get the message that they need to be more competitive.
"I don't think they realize how serious we are," Demopoulos said. "And if you want our business, give me a price and maybe I'll look at it. This? No."
Demopoulos' motion to reject the proposals and seek new ones failed for lack of a second.
Those signaling they'd formally vote in favor of extending PSI's contract for five years included Sarro, Mengoni, Trustee Fernando Flores and Mayor Hubert Hermanek Jr. Trustee Deborah Czajka abstained.
The village board will formally vote to extend the contract with PSI at its meeting on Dec. 16 at 7 p.m. in the council chamber of the Village Commons, 2401 Desplaines Ave.