Sumter County commissioners have named five citizens to a work group tasked with improving ambulance service.

The advisory committee was formed Tuesday after Commissioner Doug Gilpin suggested earlier this month that “boots on the ground” fire personnel, ambulance representatives and hospital officials be brought together to solve lagging ambulance response times.  

However, commissioners outvoted Gilpin and excluded those parties from the task force, moving instead to pick a constituent from each of their districts to tackle the life-and-death issue.

The question of assigning the job to citizens vs. active emergency experts was raised by Villager Ron Williams before the appointments were made.

 “My question is, why aren’t our fire chiefs members of that board ?” he asked, listing several nearby counties that combine ambulance and fire service into one agency.

“Our fire departments have great response times,” he said. “The ambulance company gets paid for transport through Medicare. Our fire departments arrive on the scene, they do all the hard work, they take care of all the patient’s needs until the transport company gets there. I want you commissioners to think about that strongly, and I want you to consider appointing our fire chiefs on that board.”

Commission Chairman Garry Breeden responded that the work group would be more objective without the fire chiefs, and that they were welcome to attend its meetings.

Commissioners received 64 applications for the five positions.

District 1

Commissioner Gary Search’s appointment went to Richard Kleindienst Sr., “the one that shows me the most skill set and clinical experience and EMS experience with a lot of fire experience.”

Kleindienst Is a retired EMT, emergency services captain for Bridgeport, Connecticut, and a past executive director of a regional emergency communications center. He also worked in an emergency department for a level 2 trauma center and was a representative on a regional EMS council. He is currently a supervisor at The Villages Golf and Tennis.

District 2

Gilpin’s appointment went to Leland Greek, a former Sumter County Fire Rescue chief who also worked as the former assistant county administrator. Greek has a master’s degree in executive fire service leadership and nearly four decades of experience developing fire and EMS contracts and protocols.

“Every application was very good, it was very hard to choose,” Gilpin said. “But I’m going to go with a local person, local experience, who has many years in directly what we’re talking about.”

District 3

Commissioner Craig Estep’s appointment went to Gail Lazenby, the former EMS training officer for The Villages Public Safety Department who was  instrumental in getting the area’s AED program started. Lazenby, who has two master’s degrees, is also a former EMT/paramedic and fire department CEO.

“He has an extensive background locally, and he’s also involved in multiple areas within the county,” Estep said of the CDD 3 supervisor. He added that, “I have to agree with all the other commissioners, it was a tough decision.”

District 4

Breeden’s appointment went to Jeffrey Bogue, a former paramedic who is director of EMS/critical care transport at AdventHealth in Wesley Chapel. He has more than 30 years experience in fire, EMS and prehospital care and has developed a “ground-up” EMS system for AdventHealth.

“We certainly had a fantastic group, you didn’t make our job easy by any means,” Breeden said. “There were tremendously talented people who applied. It was very difficult to make these selections. We do appreciate everyone who submitted an application, and thank you for giving us the options of utilizing your talent.”

District 5

Commissioner Oren Miller’s appointment went to  David Bussone, the former president and CEO of Tampa General Hospital after “I got it down to six names, I started drawing straws and flipping coins and everything else. That wasn’t a good methodology.  I could speak for the next 30 minutes on all the things he’s done, but that would embarrass him and take too much time.”

Bussone, who has multiple degrees including an MBA, is also the commander of the Community Emergency Response Team of The Villages.

Next Steps

Citizens who have been pleading with commissioners to move on from tax increase proposals led by Estep, Miller and Search and address the ambulance issue must wait another four months for action.

The task force, which has its first meeting tonight, has been instructed to study the options all summer and deliver its recommendation Oct. 12.

By then, the 2022 budget will have already been finalized.

Edmund Cain, fire chief of The Villages Public Safety Department, expressed optimism that the group can get traction where commissioners have not.

“I thought it was a very well-picked group,” he said, adding that he plans to attend its bi-weekly meetings that start tonight at the Wildwood Community Center. “We’ll see where it goes from there.”

ALSO TUESDAY

County Administrator Bradley Arnold confirmed that a 75% increase on road impact fees charged to new businesses is now void. The tax hike championed by Estep, Miller and Search was negated by Gov. Ron DeSantis, who signed a new law capping such increases at 12.5% annually. He said the board will need to decide how to proceed with road impact fees at its June 22 meeting.

 Gilpin noted that about $25 million in federal funding may be available to repair  roads that are are less traveled in the county.

Breeden agreed the possibility should be explored.