Daviess Fiscal Court and Evansville-based Deaconess Hospital are quickly moving toward the completion of a backup ambulance service agreement in the wake of Owensboro Health's (OH) severing of a four-decade-long agreement with both Daviess County and city of Owensboro.

In recent months, the relationship between OH's leadership and county and city officials, particularly Daviess County Judge-Executive Al Mattingly, have been tenuous at best. "Friendly lawsuits" have been discussed and accusations of a "lack of leadership" as well as OH employing "strongarm" tactics in negotiating backup service terms have been repeatedly highlighted by Mattingly in public forums.

And OH's response to both severing its ties and Deaconess taking on the backup responsibility is the same now as it has been, said Brian Hamby, OH director of marketing, "No comment."

"We have maintained a stance of silence through this issue publicly," he said. "We are going to maintain that. We are not going to offer any comment on these issues."

While OH has remained stalwart in their silence and decision to pull out of the backup agreement through a turbulent period, Deaconess' negotiations with Mattingly have been amicable, and hospital officials are excited for the opportunity to fill a community need, said Pam Hight, Deaconess public relations and community engagement manager.

"The process has gone well," she said. "As conversations have only taken a couple of weeks, and all general terms were agreed upon in a single meeting. The requests of the fiscal court and Judge-Executive Al Mattingly were very reasonable, and Deaconess has the resources to fill the need (should it arise), so it was an easy decision. We provide EMS services in other communities, and we would provide backup coverage for any community that needed us. Daviess County is part of our 26-county service area, and our mission is about taking care of our communities."

As Deaconess' interests grow, not only in the backup agreement but through the opening of its new clinic in the Bluegrass Internal Medicine on Aug. 12, making for two Deaconess clinics in Owensboro in less than a year, so does its visibility through community involvement, Hight said.

"I think we are trying to service that (Owensboro) community," Hight said. "We get asked by a lot of organizations to aid in community events, and we are happy to do that. We want to be a part of that community, and part of that is supporting nonprofits and organizations."

On the governmental side, Deaconess' growth in the health care community is seen as a plus by county officials because it introduces competition in what Mattingly has referred to as a "health care monopoly."

"I would say that competition is always a good thing," he said. "It tends to drive a service and helps to keep prices in check. I think their interest in the community is a good thing. The more choices people have, the better off they are. This is not a unique situation. Owensboro Health is expanding to other areas as well. As competition heats up, it tends to guide service and drive prices down."

Why OH decided to opt-out of the backup ambulance service agreement will never be known, said County Commissioner Charlie Castlen.

"I was happy to see Deaconess step up to see it as an opportunity and expand their presence in the community as well as have a plan in place, just in case," he said. "No one on that side (OH) has told us why they have taken the position that they did. With them being in what most of us would perceive as in a leadership role, especially in terms of medicine, why would they take the position that they were out of it? We’ll never know why. I won't speculate as to why, but as an elected official, I was disappointed in their decision."

Jacob Mulliken, 270-228-2837, jmulliken@messenger-inquirer.com

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