MedStar fallout intensifies with county manager on the hot seat
FORT MYERS, Fla. - The MedStar fiasco intensifies tonight as EMS workers question whether the county manager is even telling the truth about why MedStar is grounded.
You may remember county manager Karen Hawes grounded the MedStar helicopter program six weeks ago after allegations it was improperly billing patients for emergency services. That's when the county and the FAA began investigating.
Tonight, EMS workers say the county manager's latest explanation just doesn't add up. Ems workers say the county manager should have restored the MedStar service by now, and her explanation as to why it's still grounded doesn't fly with them.
Since grounding MedStar in August, County Manager Karen Hawes has been in the hot seat. This week, we asked Hawes to explain what is keeping the county's medical helicopter from getting off the ground.
"Right now we don't have the staff to do that, it's suspended. We don't have an Operations Manager to get it up off the ground." Hawes said.
But that explanation doesn't fly with MedStar's pilots.
“Quite simply the three pilots that you have there, any one of us is qualified under the Federal aviation regulations to act either as a Chief Pilot or as a Director of Operations." Pilot Arnold McAllister said.
Arnold McAllister - or "Mac" - has been MedStar's pilot for more than 10 years.
He says when Hawes fired the operations manager, she could have simply asked one of the pilots to take over.
"The pilots are more than willing to put that aircraft back in service tomorrow if we're given the go ahead to do that." McAllister said.
Mac says after he blew the whistle on the county by reporting violations to the FAA, Hawes suspended the MedStar program and "eliminated" the positions of all three pilots.
"I believe they're going to find that they were improperly let go." Dan Ceresa said.
Current EMS workers now questioning how Hawes is handling things.
"I don't know of any good reason why they're not up and flying." Ceresa said.
Since grounding MedStar, the county's backup helicopter has failed to respond to several emergencies because of mechanical issues.
Mac: "The worst case scenario is that there's a multiple car pile-up and the helicopters simply aren't available and the drive time's going to make the difference."
Mike Mason: "And people could die."
Mac: "People could die, yes."
"We may experience the death of someone because they couldn't get to trauma treatment quickly enough." Brian Bigelow said.
Commissioner Brian Bigelow feels the MedStar mess will cost the county manager her career.
"I think we should allow her to exit but she's not taking herself out so the Board is going to have to step in and say we need a competent County Manager, we do not currently have one." Bigelow said.
Some EMS workers agree and wish they could tell the public what is really going on with MedStar.
Flight Paramedic Kevin Geren: "I'm sorry I can't speak on that for fear of retaliation from my management.
Mike Mason: "You're afraid of losing your job?"
Kevin Geren: "Yes I am."
Hawes is expected to update commissioners on MedStar this Friday. But she still refuses to answer most of the media's questions.