By Kathi Bliss
A proposal by the Seton Family of Hospitals drew concern and public criticism from Lockhart and Caldwell County residents on Tuesday evening during the regular meeting of the Lockhart City Council.
Seton representative Neal Kelley approached the council to officially present an idea that has been discussed for several weeks, the notion of contracting the Seton Family of Hospitals to operate Lockhart-Caldwell County EMS.
Under the proposal, which includes a lengthy contract prepared by Seton’s attorneys, Seton would take over management of the city’s emergency medical services, including hiring the personnel, but the City would retain ownership of all their equipment and assets, and would receive all the money for those services.
Seton already manages EMS service for the City of Luling, and operating under the same umbrella would allow for certain advantages, not only for employees and patients, but advantages in purchasing and management, Kelley said.
“Part of our mission is to create a continuum of care, in pre-hospital, hospital and post-hospital care for our patients,” Kelley said. “And one of the things that we’ve heard concerns about is that there is not continuity in the protocols between Lockhart and Luling EMS services.”
Kelley said that by working in concert, it was likely that both services could improve patient care, and suggested that improvement was Seton’s main goal in suggesting the operational takeover.
Additionally, he said, Lockhart’s EMS employees would likely realize a pay increase as a result of the takeover and their new employment with Seton. He said it was unlikely that a takeover would trigger any job losses and that, based on the information he had been provided, all of the current City of Lockhart EMS employees would be able to transition smoothly to employment with Seton.
The proposal drew fire, however, from both members of the council and Lockhart EMS employees who were on hand to hear the discussion.
“I don’t see, in these figures, what the cost breakdown is going to be for the patient,” said District Two Councilmember John Castillo. “You said that we’re going to save money in doing this, but it’s not clear where those figures are coming from.”
Kelley said that the figures proposed, including the possibility of an operational savings as high as $117,000 per year, were based on figures provided by the City of Lockhart.
District Four Councilmember Richard Banks asked about the possibility of an emergency room opening in Lockhart, and Kelley was noncommittal on the subject, but said it was something that Seton has “looked at.”
Four employees of Lockhart-Caldwell County EMS addressed the council to express their concerns about the proposal.
Those concerns ranged from the possible reduction in care and service for patients in the northern part of Caldwell County to the fear of job losses and a “medical monopoly” in the community.
“Right now, there are only a few medical providers in this area that aren’t tied to Seton,” one said. “If we make this change, are we then going to be ordered to either take patients to a Seton facility first, or try to talk them out of their choice to go to a St. David’s facility or another facility?”
Extensive discussion about the proposal took place, but each member of the council stated a commitment to learning more about the possibilities before moving forward with any decision. Mayor Ray Sanders said it was likely that public hearings would be held on the topic before things move forward. Either way, he said, the City Council said they were committed to doing what was best not only for Lockhart and Caldwell County patients, but for EMS personnel, and that any decision made by the council would be in line with those commitments first.
In other news, the council heard a presentation from Austin architect Norm Alston, who has been working with the City on the upcoming renovation of the Dr. Eugene Clark Library and the Masonic Annex (the Clark Complex).
Alston said the project had hit a snag based on internal issues within his office, but that he expected to be able to start taking bids on the project this summer.
It is his hope, he said, that construction of both the Masonic renovation and the expansion of the “connector” between the two buildings could begin in the fall.
That construction is expected to last around eight months.
In brief news:
The council heard the biannual presentation of budgetary information on the city’s five revenue and expenditure funds. According to Finance Director Jeff Hinson, most of the funds are on target for the midpoint in the fiscal year, and policy adjustments are being considered to offset the expenses that are “off track.”
They heard and approved the Lockhart Police Department’s annual state-required Racial Profiling Report, which details a breakdown of traffic contacts to make sure that officers are not engaging in racial profiling.
The panel approved the sale of a property in the Lockhart Industrial Park to the Plum Creek Conservation District for the market price of $75,000. The sale is contingent upon a zoning change via specific use permit.
The Lockhart City Council routinely meets on the first and third Tuesday of each month at 7:30 p.m. in the Glosserman Conference Room at Lockhart City Hall. The meetings are open to the public and are televised on Time Warner Cable Channel 10.
To discuss this or other issues affecting the City of Lockhart, log on to www.post-register.com.
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