Despite reports that morale is high at the Blanco Volunteer Ambulance Corps (BVAC), the band of volunteers are still anxiously awaiting the results of the investigations currently underway from the Texas Department of Health Services, the Federal Drug Enforcement Administration, and the Blanco County Sheriff’s Department.
Rumors about the future of BVAC have been running rampant since the story broke in January of this year in regards to local hero, and BVAC Director, Mark McMain. But few people know the real facts.
According to a formal notice of violation from the Texas Department of Health Services:
“...From on or around October 2006 through January 2008 McMain… misappropriated and improperly dispensed a controlled substance [fentanyl]… approximately 237 times without proper medical authorization from a physician to his wife...”
The notice goes on to state that McMain failed to fully complete a proper medical assessment prior to and after each of the described administrations or injections of the fentanyl, and he failed to complete a proper patient care report, documenting any of the above described administrations or injections of the fentanyl.
According to Wikipedia.com: “Fentanyl (Fin-Tan-All) is a narcotic that is reportedly 81 times more potent than morphine...Because the effects of fentanyl last for only a very short time, it is even more addictive than heroin, and regular users may become addicted very quickly...Many fentanyl overdoses are initially classified as heroin overdoses...” Wikipedia.com is an online resource that is opinion based and open to user comments.
Though McMain’s reputation has been badly bruised and battered as of late, he has remained Director of BVAC while the current investigations are under way.
A number of local residents have rallied around McMain offering support to the Director.
Local Blanco resident Leslie Griffin is one such person. In a previous edition of this newspaper she wrote a letter to the editor stating:
“…I stand behind Mark McMain 100 percent. There is not a soul in Blanco who hasn’t been touched by Mark and the rest of the EMS team at one point or another. Mark has shown this town that he is willing to give up a lot of his family time by being at nearly EVERY emergency. His compassion and kindness show through and he is outstanding at his job. If we lose Mark, we lose so much and I cannot imagine not having him as the EMS Director. My prayers are with you Mark.”
Mrs. Griffin isn’t the only resident who supports Mark McMain. On a Texas EMT discussion forum (http://www.texasemt.com/web/modules.php?name=Forums&file= viewtopic&t= 1582 ), Assistant Chief of Police Gary Pitmann wrote: “my name is Gary and I am the Assistant Chief of Police here in Blanco. I have also been a medic here for the past 7 years too. Get this straight! Blanco EMS is still in operation and Mark is still the Director! Blanco is not losing its license to operate! Good God people, quit reading the Austin papers and listening to stupid rumors!”
BVAC’s medical director, Dr. Larry Miller, also backs him up stating “I’ve known and worked with Mark McMain for over 20 years,” Dr. Miller said in an email interview with the Blanco County News. “I have found him to be one of the most caring and dedicated paramedics I have ever known. I would trust him with my life. He has single-handedly developed Blanco EMS into one of the most outstanding rural EMS organizations in Texas. It was therefore with great shock and sadness that I learned of his use of fentanyl to treat his wife.”
He went on to state, “While we tend to judge any misappropriation of controlled drugs as black and white… I believe in the case of Mark McMain there are compelling reasons to reconsider his actions and our reaction to them. I believe he acted with nothing but good intentions.”
However, much to the dismay of all those who love and respect McMain, this is not the first time he has been in trouble with the law.
In a 1992 edition of the Blanco County news, the headline to one article read: “Former BVFD Chief McMain Indicted on Felony Theft Charges.”
An excerpt from this article stated:
“Mark McMain, former chief of the Blanco Volunteer Fire Department, was indicted by the Blanco County Grand Jury last week on charges of theft of more than $20,000 from the BVFD, a 2nd Degree Felony, after a lengthy investigation by Texas Ranger John Waldrip and the District attorney’s office. His bond is set at $10,000 and his arraignment will be May 6.”
Court records indicate that beginning on October 2, 1990 thru November 29, 1991 McMain stole money from the Blanco Volunteer Fire Department while serving as the Fire Chief, 43 times, totaling approximately $25,000.
McMain faced a possibility of 2 to 20 years imprisonment – but he accepted a plea bargain instead. The terms of that plea bargain included deferred adjudication, 10 years probation – where McMain was to meet with a parole officer each month, repayment of court fees, 750 hours of community service, as well as full restitution of the money stolen from the BVFD.
Court records also indicate that during McMain’s deferred adjudication he committed a number of violations:
· The defendant did not report to his probation officer in Blanco as directed in December of 1993, January of 1994, and February of 1994.
· The defendant missed monthly payments in August of 1993, and January of 1994 to repay court costs (a bill of $5.00 each month.)
· The defendant missed restitution payments to the BVFD in August of 1993, October of 1993, and January of 1994 (a bill of $210 each month.)
As a result of these violations an order was issued for McMain’s arrest on March 16, 1994 without bond.
However, on April 5, 1994, court records indicate that the State of Texas chose not to adjudicate (or formally charge McMain), and instead allowed him to proceed with his probation. Details from that meeting with the judge were not available in court records.
On July 27th, 2007, just one year ago, Judge Mills signed the order discharging McMain from Deferred Adjudication Probation.
McMain was sent the Notice of Violation letter from the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS), on February 8, 2008. He was sent an amended version of this same letter on March 28th, 2008.
Another point of contention from DSHS to McMain is that he allegedly withheld information on his application for his EMT license that he had ever received deferred adjudication (probation). He also withheld this information on his 2003 and 2007 certification renewal applications. An action that DSHS takes very seriously.
Reportedly, McMain has “taken full responsibility for his actions and sincerely regrets what these actions have cost Blanco EMS, its Medical Director, his fellow EMT’s, the Board of Directors, and the community.”
A call to David Hotz, the BVAC contact for the press, was not returned.
DSHS has currently taken just one action – suspending McMain’s certificate. During the suspension, McMain is restricted from taking care of patients but he can still drive the ambulance, direct personnel on the scene, and instruct.
He is currently serving as the BVAC Director, assisting, where he can, while his certificate is suspended. One source who wishes to remain anonymous even reported that McMain was still on the radios directing traffic at these emergency scenes – assisting emergency helicopters where to land when called to an accident scene.
Blanco EMS also received allegations from DSHS for having ‘failed to adequately monitor and/or have in place appropriate measures to safeguard its controlled substances, and/or failed [to] take appropriate action regarding the safekeeping and/or misusage of its controlled substances.’ As a result DSHS has proposed to revoke the corps’ license.
At an informal hearing on May 28th, McMain received a 60 day reprieve while investigations are underway. The actions of the state agency did not remove McMain as director of the EMS organization.
The idea that BVAC may be shut down has caused a great deal of concern for the residents who have come to depend upon the extraordinary services provided by BVAC. However, another source who is close to BVAC, but wishes to remain anonymous, stated that folks should not be worried.
“If the DSHS wanted to shut BVAC down, they would have done so already. They are working closely with us to help rewrite our bylaws to prevent this sort of thing from ever happening again. We’re a close knit family here, and we want to do everything we can to be in compliance with (DSHS). They wouldn’t be working with us so much if they were just going to shut us down,” the source said.
However, BVAC’s medical director, Dr. Larry Miller, did little to ease the minds of those who attended the meeting in February when McMain stepped down as BVAC’s president and passed the reigns over to Ruthie Weirich. When caring for patients, the volunteers working for BVAC do so under Dr. Miller’s medical license. He is the medical director of 15 EMS organizations in the area, including North Blanco County EMS. At the February meeting Dr. Miller stated, ‘I guarantee you that people will die (if BVAC is shut down by DSHS)… Response times from surrounding EMS organizations would be ‘outlandish.”
This situation might be avoided if North Blanco County EMS Director Tim Vasquez has anything to say about it. In an interview with Mr. Vasquez, he stated that he already has a contingency plan in place in the event that BVAC is shut down by the state. “We’ll move an ambulance and a crew to Blanco. This way the response time to an incident will be exactly the same as it always has been,” Mr. Vasquez stated. “We’re not just going to sit by and not allow South Blanco to have EMS coverage – we will step in and do what we have to do to make sure they still have the same amount of coverage that they’ve always had. Response times will be just as fast. We won’t just head out of Johnson City to respond. We’ll have a crew right there, ready and able to help,” he added.
It is important to note however, that what Mr. Vasquez is proposing is simply a contingency plan in the event that BVAC loses its certification. The state has yet to determine the fate of BVAC’s licensing – although a decision is expected any day now.
As for the ongoing investigations into allegations against McMain, Blanco County Sheriff Elsbury stated that “We received the initial complaint, did an investigation and completed it – and then we turned the results of that investigation over to the state. Once their investigation is over then we can share the results of our investigation with anyone that wants to know.”
Texas Department of State Health Services spokesperson, William Ayers simply said: “All I can tell you is that the case is still currently under investigation.”
A call to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) was not returned.
Although BVAC’s reputation has been tarnished lately, the Blanco Volunteer Ambulance Corps is still fully operational. The trucks are nice and clean, with the newest of the three ambulance fleet still maintaining that new car smell. Many folks in town are worried about the future of BVAC, and many more have a lot of questions.
No matter how everything turns out, Blanco residents must face up to two realities. One, there is a very real possibility that Mark McMain may not be with BVAC for very much longer. Two, we are dependent every hour of every day on the services of the men and women who are willing to selflessly sacrifice their time and expertise in the event of an emergency. As a community, we must rise up and support BVAC in any way possible, even if that is to ask the right questions about how things are run, or to simply offer them a friendly smile and say thanks when you see them in town.
That’s what small town communities are all about – helping each other even when faced with hardships we don’t want to see.