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Cypress Creek EMS has been fired. What’s next?

HOUSTON – Hundreds of thousands of families depend on Cypress Creek Emergency Medical Services for 911 medical calls, but with a unanimous vote, the government entity in charge of them, fired the ambulance service, Thursday.

Emergency Service District 11 cites financial transparency as the main reason for the decision. But for the last several years, numerous problems have bubbled to the surface including medical billing, response times and administrative competency. A lot has been called into question.

Emergency Service District 11 declined an interview request but released this statement Thursday:

Today, Harris County Emergency Services District No. 11 (the “District”) voted to give Cypress Creek Emergency Medical Services (“CCEMS”) 360-days’ notice that the District is terminating its Service Agreement with CCEMS. The Service Agreement allows either the District or CCEMS to terminate for convenience and without cause at any time, with proper notice. The District’s decision was not made lightly, but is one the District believes will enable it to provide the highest quality of emergency medical care to its residents while improving transparency and efficiency.

The District’s decision comes after years of trying to get CCEMS to cooperate with the District’s requests for improvements to the services CCEMS provides, and years of trying to get CCEMS to fairly and properly account for its use of taxpayer dollars. CCEMS has resisted the District’s efforts on both fronts, as documented in at least sixteen months of correspondence between the parties posted on the District’s website. While the District’s decision gives CCEMS 360 days to prepare for the termination of the Service Agreement, the District reserves the right to immediately terminate the Service Agreement if the District finds it necessary to protect its residents or taxpayer funds.

In the meantime, the District is confident that a smooth transition will be achieved with the help and cooperation of CCEMS management. Such cooperation includes CCEMS delivering on the promise it made today to provide the District with all documents requested in connection with the District’s ongoing investigation into CCEMS’s use of taxpayer dollars. Further, the District knows that the men and women of CCEMS will provide the highest quality of care to the District’s residents over the next year.

The District expects that the coming changes will bring new opportunities for its residents to realize improved care and accountability, and for CCEMS field and communications center staff to continue contributing their skills and training to District residents as the District begins its next chapter.

Cypress Creek EMS also released a statement, while declining an interview request:

Less than a day after CCEMS board members voted to comply with Emergency Services District Number 11 (ESD 11) commissioners’ request for a full audit of all CCEMS financial information, ESD 11 voted to terminate the contract with the emergency provider. The original contract called for CCEMS to serve as the community’s 911 responder for three more years.

In a recent audit procedure, ESD 11 Commissioners originally requested proprietary financial information far beyond the scope of what is required under the current service contract between the two entities. After denying CCEMS’s offer to disclose just the financials required under the contract, CCEMS offered to share everything to the auditor but with the caveat that she not share the details of how the organizations is run to ESD 11 Commissioners. This good faith compromise was denied by ESD 11 as well.

“We have been working with ESD 11 Commissioners’ ever-growing list of requests for months now- they have told us, our employees and the public they aimed to keep CCEMS as the 911 Responder. Today’s vote is disappointing and shocking to everyone here,” says Wren Nealy, chief executive officer for Cypress Creek EMS. “Our main concerns are for our employees and the community they serve, as front-line responders during a pandemic we want to reassure them they will continue to have employment and serve the community for the next year. The reality is ESD 11′s attempts to replace the services we provide at our level of expertise is just not possible.”

What now?

The specter of 177 square miles of territory on the north and northwest sides of Houston’s metro area being uncovered by ambulance service is untenable. So, while Cypress Creek EMS is expected to answer calls as per usual over the next year, Emergency Service District 11 is in the midst of contracting with a back-up provider, the Harris County Emergency Corps, to cover gaps, if necessary.

It could get ugly in terms of both response times and lawsuits. Expect to see fights over which entity owns what.

Wayne Dolcefino, former investigative reporter, and CEO of Dolcefino Consulting believes it’s possible the ESD 11 becomes the ambulance provider, itself.

“More and more ESDs are doing that,” Dolcefino said Friday.

Since 2011, property taxpayers in the area have contributed more than $100 million to fund Cypress Creek EMS.