In the first piece below, the Insurance News Net picks up a story from the OC Register’s wire service on the ambulance fee topic (see MOORLACH UPDATE — OCFA Study — March 26, 2014). This subject will be addressed during tomorrow’s Board meeting, under Supplemental Item S24A, where we will be able to provide recommendations for the draft Request for Proposal (RFP) for Basic Life Support (BLS) Emergency Ambulance Transport. The final draft of the RFP will come before the Board next week. It then goes to the California Emergency Medical Services Authority for its final review before the RFP is released for responsive bids. If this topic is of interest to you, then go to http://www.ocgov.com/gov/bos/agenda/ for the agenda information and feel welcome to attend tomorrow morning’s Board meeting.
Happy Fourth Birthday to the Voice of OC, which commemorates the occasion with a puff piece on achieving this milestone. I usually just provide responses orally, but I was permitted to respond to the topic with an e-mail. Along with some praise, I also included some broad critical observations, which were hinted at, but not included in the second piece below.
BONUS: April 10th is approaching. For those who own real estate in Orange County, your second property tax payment will be due on or before next Thursday.
County’s special-attention ambulance fee will continue
An extra ambulance fee charged to those needing special paramedic attention will continue in its current form under new contracts between the Orange County Fire Authority and private ambulance providers, county supervisors decided in 3-2 vote Tuesday.
In addition to the transport fees users pay to the ambulance companies, those needing "advanced life support" — often people in life-threatening medical situations — pay an additional fee of nearly $400. That money is forwarded by the ambulance companies to the fire authority for providing paramedics’ aid and adds $4.5 million to OCFA coffers annually.
Supervisors are preparing to rebid the ambulance contracts for the 19 cities served by the fire authority and voted to continue the additional fee over the objections of two board members.
Shawn Nelson, chairman of the Board of Supervisors, wanted to eliminate the Advanced Life Support fee altogether. He argued that there are no extra personnel costs to the fire authority when paramedics go on a call; those paramedics are getting paid the same wage to sit in the fire station when there are no calls.
Supervisor John Moorlach wasn’t as ardent in opposing the fee completely, but also voted against continuing the collection in its current form. He noted that taxpayers already are covering the cost of paramedics.
"It seems like you’re double charging the public," he said after the meeting.
An option backed by Nelson and Moorlach would have required the fire authority to bill ambulance users directly if they wanted to continue to collect the fee, which is $387 in most of the cities served.
The approved plan to continue the current practice, in which the ambulance companies add the fee to their bill and then forward the money to the fire authority, won the support of Supervisors Janet Nguyen, Todd Spitzer and Pat Bates.
Bates said that the plan supported by Nelson and Moorlach was cumbersome and inefficient.
"It’s too much bureaucracy that increases costs," she said.
OCFA officials say the funding is used to help pay for the additional time and medical supplies required on advanced life support calls, and that without the money the agency would have a budget deficit.
In other action, the board unanimously approved a 15-month contract with the 12,000 employees represented by the Orange County Employees Association. The previously negotiated deal will give workers a 1.25 percent raise and a 1.25 percent one-time bonus, but will require employees to pay a larger share of their health insurance costs.
Voice of OC Hits 4th Anniversary
Four years ago this morning, Voice of OC went live.
The premise remains simple.
Faced with a continued decay of civic coverage from mainstream media outlets besieged by budget cuts, local communities can better hold their own government leaders accountable by ensuring robust city hall coverage through a public trust.
Over the past decade, more than 75 independent non-profit investigative news agencies have sprouted up across America with the aim of providing hard-nosed, real-time coverage of the civic issues that matter most.
ProPublica remains the best known, and most successful non-profit newsroom in the nation, already being recognized with several Pulitzer Prizes and a multi-million dollar budget.
In Orange County, Voice of OC was launched by a group of local investigative journalists and attorneys in the spring of 2010 around the idea that great civic coverage – combining the best of CSPAN and 60 Minutes’ approach – produces the best policy outcomes for residents.
It’s an idea that first found a receptive ear at the local labor union, the Orange County Employees Association – a seed funder that has since become a regular contributor.
Since then, a host of foundations such as the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, Ethics and Excellence in Journalism, the Orange County Community Foundation and The California Endowment have all joined in the effort to support tough investigative journalism at the local level.
In addition to foundation support and private donors like Board Chairman Wylie Aitken, Voice of OC also has garnered multiple awards from the Orange County Press Club and attracted solid media partners like PBS SoCal, the Associated Press and the California Newspaper Publishers Association.
The Voice of OC newsroom stands for professional and probing coverage – featuring institutional knowledge and perspective – at the local level that is provided through a cost-effective non-profit model deploying investigative reporters across the region on a daily basis with an eye toward exposes on local government and politics.
Voice of OC’s newsroom also focuses intensively on community health – in essence asking the question, what produces healthier neighborhoods?
Whether it’s delving into urban bike safety or covering mismanagement at large public health agencies like CalOptima, Voice of OC reporters and editors have honed a specialty over the past four years holding the largest countywide agencies transparent, accountable and responsive on the toughest social service and health care issues.
In addition, the newsroom now features a vibrant youth media program with a special focus on central Orange County. And the Opinion page now features nearly 40 community leaders and activists who collectively make up the “Community Editorial Board,” many of whom regularly write Op-Eds on local issues and help host discussion forums.
The idea remains to offer residents as much useable information about their local city halls as they get about their local professional sports franchise, with the aim of fueling participation and debate.
Whether it’s jockeying over the future of Orange County’s fairgrounds, government outsourcing, public pensions, stadium and convention center expansions, government whistle blowers, district elections in Anaheim or Santa Ana’s future, all sides have come to expect impactful coverage from the Voice of OC newsroom.
Our online readership has more than doubled in the last year, climbing to nearly 60,000 unique visitors a month – enough to fill Angel Stadium.
We’re even more popular on social media with a 146-percent growth in Facebook fans over the last year.
Yet it’s not just how many people are reading the exposés, but who.
According to our own web records, the FBI checks our site several times each week.
Indeed, computers from the FBI’s criminal justice information system represent one of our biggest institutional jumps in readership – up 513 percent from last year.
Readership from the California State Senate also grew by just over 500 percent.
According to our web data, other large growth in readership came from UC Irvine and Chapman University, along with the Orange County Department of Education, the U.S. Department of Justice, the county governments of Los Angeles, Riverside and San Bernardino, and Orange County Superior Court.
Voice of OC coverage attracts a variety of reactions from across the political spectrum.
"It’s a breath of fresh air to have an online newspaper that investigates local events," said Democratic State Senator Lou Correa, especially in "this era of budget cuts, in this era of newspapers going out of business" and with cuts "devastating" investigative news resources.
"I think it’s critical for democracy, critical for the policy makers," Correa said.
Orange County Supervisors’ Chairman Shawn Nelson, a Republican, said he is often frustrated by manufactured “gotcha” stories from local media and wants appreciates having more heft as a policy maker.
“I love it when you guys are digging in and getting the stories nobody else has the time to get,” Nelson said.
“I like when there’s more analysis. You guys get good info because you’re around. People run into you guys, you’re around.”
County Supervisor John Moorlach said he isn’t always a fan of Voice of OC coverage but appreciates the model.
The investigative newsroom “has provided their unique journalistic flair. With a no-fear attitude, it has done a good job of branding itself and has developed a reputation as a no-holds-barred reporting entity,” Moorlach said.
Moorlach – a Republican best known for predicting the 1994 Orange County municipal bankruptcy – wished the newsroom well on its anniversary, saying “as they strive for excellence, for unbiased coverage, and for a devotion to the Journalist’s Creed, may they have many more years as a leader in this new journalistic format.”
City leaders also said the Voice of OC model has had a real impact on Santa Ana.
“It has made city politics, city issues into water cooler conversation,” said Santa Ana City Councilman Sal Tinajero, an Orange County Democrat who also leads a high school debate team at Fullerton Union High School.
Tinajero says he appreciates the Voice of OC model because it highlights that “major events are what you see the minute you open your door outside your house.”
And that approach has made a real difference in changing city hall, he added.
“What the Voice [of OC] did is create a more transparent system,” Tinajero said. “It forced cities to be more transparent, because if you weren’t they were going to call you on it. It forces our government agencies to be more transparent and to really re-think what procedures they’re going to use to make sure there’s fairness.”
Santa Ana City Councilman David Benavides, a Democrat who ran for mayor in 2012, agreed that the agency’s coverage has been impactful.
“Honestly it keeps us on our toes,” Benavides said. Sometimes it is a little nerve-wracking. We know we’re already under the microscope, but when there’s a reporting agency who makes it their mission to scrutinize even more what local government and elected [officials] are doing, it gives us reason for pause and worry a bit what might be reported on individuals and our city."
"But at the end of a day, when I’m looking at it impartially and not from a personal perspective, there’s a public gain in knowing there are reporters looking into what we’re doing.”
“I think I’ll enjoy it more when I’m not a public official,” Benavides said.
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