Harford County Executive Barry Glassman plans to implement a "phased-in transition" to develop a Harford County EMS system that would supplement medical services provided by privately-run volunteer fire companies throughout the county.
Glassman announced his proposal during his third State of the County Address Tuesday evening before a packed house in the Harford County Council chambers in Bel Air.
His ideas for the county medical service were one of many topics Glassman covered in his 30-minute speech, titled "Journey to Success."
He also discussed plans to mark the first anniversary in February of the murder two Harford County Sheriff's Office deputies, the ongoing battle against heroin addiction, the county's gradually-improving financial picture, a pledge of future capital funding for the Havre de Grace Middle/High School replacement, securing the final piece of land to connect two sections of the Ma & Pa Trail, proposed transportation improvements and future efforts to preserve agricultural land.
Glassman also noted the importance of service.
"In as much as I love policy work, I remind myself each day to smile, touch someone, make a difference in their life whether through our charity efforts, helping families with after-school care, housing, and in all we do," he said, and noted county employees will again this year honor Dr. Martin Luther King with a Day of Service.
Enhancing EMS service
"I want to reassure our volunteer fire companies that have successful company EMS programs that we value your service and do not intend on replacing them," Glassman said of his EMS plans. "This process may take several years to complete, but it is time we begin the hard work of formal planning and necessary approvals."
Glassman proposed creating a medical director's position in the Department of Emergency Services, phasing out funding for emergency SUVs known as chase vehicles and replacing them with county-owned and staffed Advanced Life Support Surge Ambulances, as well as creating a county EMS Standards Board "to begin the complex planning for a phased-in transition to county-staffed units in service areas which may require supplementation."
He stressed the county-operated ambulances would not compete with volunteer EMS units but "provide an additional safety net."
Eleven of Harford's 12 volunteer fire and EMS companies provide EMS service with their volunteers and paid paramedics – the Susquehanna Hose Company, of Havre de Grace, only provides firefighting service. Havre de Grace Ambulance Corps provides emergency medical service in the Havre de Grace area.
The Harford County Volunteer Fire and EMS Foundation, which gets partial funding from the county government and the rest from the fire companies, provides funds so the companies can pay for paramedics. Paramedics respond to calls in either fire company ambulances or chase vehicles. Three chase vehicles are available to serve northern Harford County residents.
The county executive's proposals come from a study of the EMS service conducted last year by the University of Maryland's Center for Health and Homeland Security.
"I asked them to review past studies, conduct interviews with our providers and make recommendations so that we can continue to deliver a high level of service to our citizens while responding to the changing needs over the long term," Glassman said.
He thanked EMS providers, officials with the Foundation and its parent organization, the Harford County Volunteer Fire & EMS Association, for their "cooperation and candor" with the CHHS staff.
"I want to assure our citizens that the EMS Foundation is currently within the accepted standards for response and quality of care," Glassman said. "However, its unique structure is not sustainable in the long run."
Day of remembrance
Glassman will mark this Feb. 10, which will be one year since two Sheriff's Office deputies were gunned down, as a "day of remembrance" for Senior Deputy Patrick Dailey and Deputy First Class Mark Logsdon, who were gunned down on Feb, 10, 2016, a day that "brought violence beyond belief to our community and changed Harford County forever," Glassman said.
"As dark as those days following were, the county's love and generosity never shined so bright," he continued.
He plans to sign a declaration making this Feb. 10 a day of remembrance. It will be marked with a moment of silence at noon, silence except for the activation of the county's emergency sirens.
"Our triumph as a county over these experiences can resonate in the hearts of other communities and give hope and courage to show that it is possible to come together in any season," Glassman said.
Glassman also lauded the county employees who worked through Harford's other major challenge in 2016, Winter Storm Jonas. Glassman said 37 inches, "the largest single snowfall in Harford County's history," fell when the storm hit in January.
"A special thanks to the men and women of our Highways Division for their dedication and our staff who secured $1 million in reimbursement from the federal government," he said.
He also thanked the person who took a photo of a ruler in the snow outside the Norrisville Volunteer Fire Company firehouse to indicate the 37 inches.
"That was part of the record that secured that funding," Glassman said.
Heroin fight continues
Glassman pledged to increase county funding to $250,000 to support prevention and treatment of heroin addiction. The local heroin scourge, which caused more than 50 overdose deaths last year, has been a topic in all three of Glassman's State of the County speeches.
He pledged last year to double the amount of money available for treatment and prevention, from $100,000 to $200,000.
"Despite our efforts, we continue to share the national nightmare of increasing heroin overdoses and deaths," Glassman said. "I am resolute in my determination to save future generations through prevention and our current addicts with resources for treatment and recovery."
He noted Harford's multifaceted program to stop the spread of heroin addiction was recognized by the National Association of Counties. He also recognized in the audience three girls who "poured out their emotions" in public service announcements that ran in local movie theaters during the summer and were seen by more than 200,000 people.
Mara Finnegan, of Forest Hill, Jade Buddenbohn, of Fallston, and Alyana Beck, of Street, who lost loved ones to overdoses, stood as the audience applauded.
Glassman recognized a handful of people during his speech, including Henderson "Mitch" Mitchell, who was named Harford's Most Beautiful Person, for his work as a tutor and mentor to Harford County Public Schools students; Shawn Durning, general manager for e-commerce firm XPO Logistics, and Amy Johnston, the company's director of operations, for the firm's commitment to build a warehouse in Perryman and create up to 550 jobs, as well as C. John Sullivan, of Bel Air, for his assistance in preserving the historic Joesting-Gorsuch House.
Glassman also recognized Phil Anderson, Rod Bourn, Mike Early, Shirley Hooper, Cindy Hushon and her family for their cooperation in securing about 200 yards along the edge of property owned by the Hooper family just north of the Ma & Pa Trail trailhead at Williams Street in Bel Air.
That strip is the "missing link" needed to connect the Bel Air and Forest Hill sections of the popular hiking, walking and biking trail.
"Land use will once again be the primary policy issue this year," Glassman said.
Glassman noted the "landmark" HarfordNEXT master plan, which the council approved last June, and said he plans to submit comprehensive rezoning legislation to the council in September. Residents can follow the rezoning process via the Harford County Rezoning Tracker app, available on the county website.
Glassman plans a 33 percent increase in funding for agricultural land preservation, as well as a signing bonus for those who want to preserve acreage near rural village centers.
"These steps will further secure the county's agricultural heritage for future generations," he said.
Glassman pointed out steady increases in income and property tax revenue, reduces expenses, stabilized debt and a growing fund balance, or cash reserves.
He said that, through "fiscal discipline," the county has budgeted more than $13.2 million during the past two years for county government employees, sheriff's deputies and teachers.
"My intention is to continue a measured approach to building back salary levels for employees who provide vital public services; however, we cannot simply restore pay levels overnight from years of deferral while continuing to absorb increased health care costs which are estimated at 10 percent again this year, and add to the difficulty of increases," he noted.
Harford's debt service is improving, after tripling over the last few years from $200 million to about $600 million. The bonds the county is selling next month, only $17 million of the $55 million will be for projects approved during his administration.
Limited bonds are planned for the next few years, while at the same time providing necessary funding for key infrastructure renewal projects, our storm-water obligations and a new Havre de Grace Middle-High School.
Glassman thanked audience members, as well as those watching the live online broadcasts, "for the opportunity to lead this county on this journey."
"Continue to pray for me and my family and may God bless you and Harford County in the coming year," he said.
Council, public responses
Council members and fire and EMS officials said after the speech they want to know more about Glassman's proposals to revamp the EMS service.
"I think we're going to have an open dialogue on this, and we're going to move forward," Russell "Rusty" Eyre, president of the Fire and EMS Association, said.
Rich Gardiner, a spokesperson for the association, said in a text message "we will be looking forward to hearing more details on the executive's initiatives he discussed this evening."
Councilman Mike Perrone noted "the devil's always in the details" when implementing new initiatives.
"We just have to see exactly what he's proposing and what the impacts are," Perrone said.
Councilman Joe Woods, who was chief of the Fallston Volunteer Fire and Ambulance Company for six years and is a crew chief for the county's Technical Rescue Team, said he likes the idea of a county medical director to serve as a liaison between the local government and medical providers in the field.
Dr. Tim Chizmar, a emergency room physician at University of Maryland Upper Chesapeake Medical Center in Bel Air, is the volunteer medical director with the Fire and EMS Association whom Woods praised for his support of EMS training and the system's "functionality."
Gardiner said Chizmar, who attended Glassman's speech, is tasked with overseeing volunteer and paid EMS providers in Harford.
"Dr. Chizmar is undeniably the greatest asset and advocate EMS has in Harford County," he stated.