Officials debate MEDSTAR grounding, former employees speak out
Fallout from the MEDSTAR mess grows in Lee County. Leaders are questioning what led to the service's suspension and the best way to respond to emergency calls. Video by fox4now.comvideo
FORT MYERS, Fla. - What angers county leaders about the grounding of Medstar is it's a critical program, one that provides potentially life-saving services. And what's perhaps most troubling is they're still working out how best to fill Medstar's void.
"They are the ones who put the health safety welfare of citizens at risk," said Misty Turley, who owns property in Lee County, during public comment.
Turley's concerns are similar to those of other lee county taxpayers. They fear the fallout from suspending Medstar could jeopardize emergency airlifts to area hospitals.
"I don't think they were ever given an adequate picture of what was going on," said Dan Ceresa, a former Medstar paramedic, who left in April and is now employed by LCEMS. "I think they were given half truths at best. Outright lies in a lot of cases"
At Tuesday's commission meeting, former Medstar employees spoke out about the embattled medical flight program shut down on August 19.
"I can no longer continue on due to recent events," said Jason Ausman, who resigned yesterday.
Ausman, a paramedic, is concerned the county wasn't being truthful about the need for an emergency helicopter to respond to an Estero car crash on Friday.
"I can no longer listen to the lies and be held by the gag order and their threats," explained Ausman.
And while some county officials want to be sure Tampa-based helicopter service Aeromed can step in while Medstar's out of service, "Why is it difficult to get a temporary understanding that that chopper would be available under the terms of this contract," said Mann, about requesting Aeromed help Collier County, if needed, too.
Others worry County Manager Karen Hawes' suspending of Medstar was illegal. They say she should have brought her concerns to commissioners before grounding emergency copters, firing four employees and leaving auditors to untangle the mess.
"Did we knowingly or unknowingly sidestep Florida state law, the Sunshine Law?" questioned Commissioner Brian Bigelow.
We wanted to speak with Hawes about the Medstar program following today's meeting but she left quickly without talking to reporters. Meanwhile, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the Clerk of Courts have each launched audits into the program. Commissioners hope to have results within 10 days so they can take corrective action and get the helicopters back in the air.