Commissioners made no decision Monday on the reinstatement of Larry Larsen, apparently reacting in part to a letter they received that instead has them scurrying to consult the same law firm used to help fire the Peabody paramedic in October.
“This is way big,” Commission Chairman Dan Holub said. “We got a letter today to be read at this meeting in opposition to Larry being rehired, but there are accusations that we’re not going to read it out loud. We’re not going to go there again, that happened before.”
Marion County Record filed an open records request for a copy of the letter, which was denied twice by clerk Tina Spencer, citing grounds for the decisions from the Kansas Open Records Act. In her written responses, she said the letter, written by a county employee, was a confidential personnel record that was exempt from release.
However, the letter, presented more than a month after Larsen was fired, was stated by Holub to be, “in opposition to Larry being rehired.” As it advocates a specific commission action and was referenced in a public meeting, Kansas Open Records Act appears to mandate its disclosure.
Commissioners agreed to engage the law firm of Lewis, Brisbois, Bisgaard and Smith, the state EMS board, and newly hired EMS consultant Terry David before making any decision on Larsen.
Commissioner Randy Dallke, who made the request to reinstate Larsen, questioned the need to consult the state EMS board. He said the board deals with medical concerns, and that no such issues had been raised against Larsen.
Holub agreed, to a point.
“Nobody ever questioned Larry’s medical abilities,” he said. “We don’t even know where we sit with the EMS board. They may say this doesn’t involve them, and that takes them out of the equation totally.”
Several citizens attended the meeting with expectations a decision would be made and spoke to commissioners.
Peabody minister and librarian Rodger Charles was present to urge commissioners make a decision and put the matter to rest for the good of the community.
“Being from Peabody, this has stirred things up,” Charles said. “I don’t know all the details; I don’t want to know all the details. It needs to stay with the commission, and you have a decision to make. Please make it so we can get on with life. If you’re asking if I think Larry’s qualified, I don’t think that’s on the table. I can’t think of anybody in Peabody that I would rather have come to my aid. If there are other issues, then deal with the other issues, but please, not in open session.”
Peabody EMS crewmember Brian Whiteside said he went on a cardiac call Monday morning, and bemoaned the fact that Larsen lived nearby but couldn’t even be consulted by phone.
He also said Larsen’s skills as a paramedic were necessary to prevent cardiac patients from being transferred without medications only paramedics can administer.
“They’re changing advanced-life-support calls to basic-life-support calls so they can transport them,” Whiteside said. “In other words, they’re stopping drugs going from one hospital to going to Wichita so they can transport. This stuff has to quit.”
EMS advisory board chairman Gene Winkler disputed the implicit suggestion that patient care was being compromised.
“I don’t think either hospital would do anything to harm a patient and take the drugs off of them just for the convenience of being able to transport them BLS,” he said.
Peabody crew chief Tammy Whiteside agreed that patients are stabilized before ambulance transport, but maintained the practice of discontinuing certain drugs to accommodate basic-life-support transfers has occurred.
The Whitesides presented a petition supporting Larsen’s reinstatement that was signed by about 100 Peabody residents. Brian Whiteside said he wanted the petition back, and when attorney Susan Robson took it to make a copy, Whiteside followed her to observe the process.
Commissioner Lori Lalouette was matter-of-fact in her response to delaying a decision.
“We’re probably going to have to do a little bit more talking and looking at some things that did come up,” she said. “We have to look at what’s best for the county. We have to protect the county if there’s any liability or any issues, or anything else. I don’t think we want to wait forever because we do need to get this squared away.”
Consistent with his decision to present the reinstatement request as a “citizen of Peabody,” Dallke’s response reflected conflicting responsibilities as he voted for the extension.
“Everybody’s on edge,” he said. “I’m in favor of getting it over with, too. I’d like to see Larry back on the service. Randy Dallke, the citizen, says yes, put him back on; Randy Dallke, the commissioner, will agree to the vote. Get it over with and get it done in a hurry. I don’t like to walk both sides of the table, but I guess I have to.”
Rice County EMS director and consultant Terry David was appointed as temporary interim EMS director, as outgoing director Brandy McCarty’s resignation became effective Monday. A candidate for the interim position was interviewed Monday, and applications will continue to be accepted through Friday.