No action was taken on a service agreement between Harris County Emergency Services District No. 11 and district provider Cypress Creek Emergency Medical Services in a special meeting held by district board members June 9, despite complications in communication among the two's leadership since at least 2019.
As previously reported by Community Impact Newspaper, CCEMS services 17 ZIP codes in north Harris County, providing emergency medical services for approximately 177 square miles in areas including Cypress, Tomball, Spring and Humble.
According to District Assistant Treasurer Kevin Brost, item No. 4 on the meeting's agenda aimed to address discrepancies in CCEMS asset reports in relation to ESD 11, in addition to the overall service agreement between the two entities.
"Our attorneys [have] been on this as well as [many] other things that have been demanded out of Cypress Creek EMS, and [they] have not been complying with us for [many] months and years now," Brost said in a June 8 interview.
Despite this, several voiced their support for maintaining CCEMS as the district's emergency medical services provider at the start of the meeting, including district board President Karen Plummer.
“It remains my personal desire to continue the relationship we have established [with] Cypress Creek EMS,” Plummer said. “I'm very passionate about that. I want to work toward mending that relationship, while making sure we're providing the best emergency care available to our citizens. We must be able to assure our citizens that the funds they entrust to us are being used for that care, and we have that fiduciary responsibility to follow that through.”
The district released a request for qualifications in late March with a deadline of June 1, calling for other emergency medical service providers to provide a submission of qualifications for consideration to serve within the district's jurisdiction. ESD 11 received nine submissions from other EMS providers, according to ESD 11 attorney Regina Adams of Radcliffe Bobbitt Adams Polley legal services. CCEMS did not submit a submission for qualifications.
Ponderosa Fire Department Chief Fred Windisch expressed his opposition to changing ESD 11's service provider during the public comment portion of the meeting. Windisch advocated for CCEMS to remain the district's responding agency during this time of uncertainty with regard to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, consequential economic downturn and onset of hurricane season in Texas.
“A wholesale change of provider will cause unnecessary stress and less service,” Windisch said. “We're in this together with the same citizens paying the way. I can state with confidence that if another agency is a service provider, the fire departments will most likely eliminate first responder services especially if it is a for-profit company. ... This is not a threat. This is based on the why question, why should we invest our assets and people to benefit a private company?”
Taking no action on the item regarding the service agreement, ESD 11 board members instead voted to take action to clarify title ownership of assets owned by the district.
“Even though this is in our contract and even though this is part of state law, this [motion] will solidify what assets belong to the taxpayers and ESD 11, and what assets, potentially, are property of Cypress Creek EMS,” Brost said. “It is 100% clear to the district of what the district and the taxpayers own. It is very unclear and blurry in Cypress Creek EMS's bookkeeper and auditor's minds of what belongs to the taxpayer and what belongs to Cypress Creek [EMS].”
ESD auditor Joseph Ellis, of McCall Gibson Swedlund Barfoot PLLC, said an estimated $1.5 million in assets was claimed by CCEMS for equipment such as ambulance vehicles; however, unclear communication contributed to issues of clarity on title ownership.
“What I think we all agree on, the verbiage of the contract says that the ESD retains the right to ownership and title,” CCEMS controller Rene Johnson said. “They have the option to have the right of ownership to the titles, but we didn't have those in our records as any communication from prior years that they actually exercised that right in any assets of the books.”
Adams said a 2013 contract between ESD 11 and CCEMS ensured any equipment acquired through the district's funds is considered ESD 11 property.
“What we've put in writing to [CCEMS] in letters, what we have said repeatedly at board meetings, is that whatever assets are purchased with district funds, in full or in part, very similar to this [contract] language, are district property," she said.
The meeting comes in the wake of CCEMS CEO Brad England's notice of retirement from the organization's board of directors May 27 after 31 years with CCEMS.
The board scheduled a follow-up special meeting for June 23 at 9 a.m.