Omaha Fire Department, Mayor Stothert spar over paying for medical consultant -
Published Thursday, August 8, 2013 at 1:00 am / Updated at 4:08 am
Omaha Fire Department, Mayor Stothert spar over paying for medical consultant

The budget standoff between the Omaha Fire Department and Mayor Jean Stothert doesn't all center on layoffs and idled equipment.

Both sides are sparring over Fire Chief Mike McDonnell's $150,000 request to pay University of Nebraska Medical Center consultants who supervise the department's emergency medical service.

Stothert cut the request from the 2014 fire budget, deepening a quarrel over the $90.6 million proposal. The city doesn't need to spend that money, she said.

“We eliminated funding for the medical director — and my direction was to have someone do it as a volunteer — like they had for the past 4 years,” Stothert wrote in a Tuesday email to the City Council.

Dr. Joseph Stothert, the mayor's husband, served as the Fire Department's emergency medical director for 18 years. Mayor Jim Suttle's administration dismissed Dr. Stothert around Election Day.

“I know several very qualified physicians who would be willing to serve as medical director as a volunteer (Joe Stothert is excluded from this list),” Stothert wrote.

“If the Chief cannot find a volunteer — I can.”

During Tuesday's budget hearings, McDonnell didn't address at length paying medical consultants.

But Dr. Robert Muelleman, the chairman of UNMC's emergency medicine department who signed on to help serve in Stothert's former role, seemed to disagree with the mayor during testimony before the council.

“I'm not aware of any urban, professional EMS department in the country — Lincoln included — that doesn't fund medical direction,” Muelleman said.

In a written statement submitted to council members, Muelleman said advances in ambulance care and a heightened risk of mass casualty incidents make it critical for the city to have high-quality medical direction.

“It is unlikely that OFD will be able to find a volunteer medical director after January 1st, any more than the city could find a volunteer attorney, consultant or negotiator,” Muelleman wrote.

Muelleman's contract with the city — which states the medical position will be unpaid — concludes at the end of the year. Dr. Richard Walker, another UNMC physician, helps serve as a primary contact with the department. Other members of the UNMC physicians group, Muelleman said, would help contribute a vast amount of knowledge to the department.

The Fire Department has paid its medical director before.

Dr. Stothert, a UNMC trauma surgeon, was paid about $58,000 annually for the contracted position until his wife was elected to the City Council in 2009. He then chose to serve as a volunteer while keeping the rest of his contract intact.

The City Charter prohibits elected officials from having a financial interest, direct or indirect, in any city contract.

Dr. Stothert's contract with the city expired in 2011, but he continued to serve in the role.

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