09/08/04 — Some residents upset by Duplin County's emergency medical service plan

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Some residents upset by Duplin County's emergency medical service plan

By Bonnie Edwards
Published in News on September 8, 2004 2:00 PM

KENANSVILLE -- Some residents are upset about Duplin County's emergency medical service plans, and another volunteer squad has announced it is closing its doors.

A standing-room-only crowd attended the Tuesday meeting of the Duplin County commissioners. Many didn't like how the county is implementing full-time paid EMS. Some said they would prefer to continue using a private service.

County Manager Fred Eldridge said he received a letter Friday from the Rose Hill Fire Department announcing that as of Oct. 1 it will not be taking any more EMS calls. He said he is working on completing a plan for implementing countywide paid-employee service.

So far, the county has one written agreement for housing paid emergency medical technicians. The town of Warsaw has agreed to provide its old rescue building rent-free.

But Warsaw residents complained that they would no longer be able to call a private ambulance service. They could do so when the county contracted with Johnston Ambulance Service to cover Warsaw after its volunteer squad shut down operations. But the county has sent out letters saying Johnston Ambulance Service cannot take the calls now that the county is providing the service.

Kenansville residents were upset that their ambulance was transferred to Warsaw. The Kenansville rescue squad closed earlier this year, because its volunteers said they could no longer keep the squad running.

Several residents from both towns spoke during the public comment part of the meeting.

Jimmy Dixon of Warsaw said the EMS budget is taking up 21 percent of the county budget. He said the county could save $1.3 million by contracting with a private ambulance service.

Jim Harris, also of Warsaw, said he was disturbed when he found out that, while all areas are not covered with EMS, the county has sent the private ambulance companies letters informing them they cannot answer calls for rides to the hospital.

"If it's a state law and it needs to be changed, we need to change it," said Harris. "If I elect to call Johnston Ambulance Service, they ought to be able to come get me."

Rachel Holland of Kenansville asked commissioners why they don't take the ambulance that was moved from Kenansville to Warsaw and put it at James Kenan High School, property that the county owns. She asked the commissioners why they're hiring paramedics rather than basic EMTs.

She said that while the county manager lives at River Landing, most of the people in Duplin County live in single-wide mobile homes.

She said she thinks that when it comes to handling money, Eldridge "has Mercedes taste, and the county has a Ford Escort pocket book. ... Why give the people in Duplin County better service than the people are willing to pay for? I think with EMS you're trying to go busted so you're forced to go private."

Steven Williamson, a member of the Kenansville town board, asked the commissioners to look again at countywide EMS from the standpoint of what Duplin County can afford.

Ryan West of Coastline Care based in Wilmington told the commissioners it is not against the law for the private companies to pick up people who call them.

Commissioners Chairman L.S. Guy said the public's opinions will make things better, and the commissioners do not want to cut anybody short. "Our intention is to provide everything we can at a minimum cost," he said.

State Rep. Russell Tucker was in the audience. He said he would not feel comfortable commenting until he reads the law.

State Sen. Charlie Albertson said he had arrived at the meeting just in time for a closed session and missed the comments about EMS.