11/30/04 — Ambulance company's bid not presented

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Ambulance company's bid not presented

By Bonnie Edwards
Published in News on November 30, 2004 2:00 PM

KENANSVILLE -- Some people are upset with Duplin County officials for not presenting a private ambulance company's proposal to them.

Duplin County commissioners and about 45 citizens met Monday night at James Sprunt Community College to hear a proposal by Johnston Ambulance Service to provide paramedic-level emergency services from six stations in the county. But after an hour and a half, they had still heard no proposal.

County Manager Fred Eldridge told them the proposal defeated the county's purpose of asking for full unsubsidized paramedic level service at six sites.

"Johnston wanted to be subsidized and wanted the county to provide part of the service," said Eldridge. He told the board it's his responsibility to advise them on whether they should consider the proposal.

He had sent out requests for proposals to Johnston Ambulance Service, Coastline, Pender EMS and the Wayne County manager, who had expressed some interest in providing the service. The only proposal came from Johnston.

Several members of the audience, including Warsaw Mayor Win Batten and newly elected commissioner David Fussell, said they wanted to see the Johnston proposal. Commissioners Reginald Wells and Zettie Williams said they wanted to hear the company's proposal. She said she came into the meeting expecting to hear the comparison between what the county is doing and the company's proposal.

"Let them talk," said Wells. "Let it out. We called the summit for this purpose. We don't want to hide something."

But Commissioner Chairman L.S. Guy and Commissioner Larry Howard said the company didn't send the county what it wanted. The county asked for a proposal that did not include a subsidy, they said.

Jeff White of Johnston Ambulance Service said the request for proposals asked that if there were any additional subsidy needed, what would it be. "We answered that," he said. "We did submit a cost proposal and profit and loss projections over five years."

The company's proposal asked for $750,000 a year for three years to help with start-up costs. The company also offered a $1 million performance bond.

"We're not here to start a problem," said White. "We're here to help you find a solution. We've been beaten to death. Y'all have been beaten to death. We've been threatened. You've been threatened. It's gone too far ... Nobody is out to get anybody today ... All we ask is for is to weigh all your options and to be treated with the respect you would expect."

Johnstoncould save the county more than $1 million, said company president Maynard Price.

"How in the world can you bid on a county without having subsidy?" he asked commissioners. ".... You can't run a 911 system and expect to make money."

Eldridge said it would cost the county around $3 million for a full year of providing the service. He projected revenues of a little over $1 million based on the county's current average of a 40 percent collections rate. But he said he feels the county can improve on that. The collections in November were double that of other months, he said. He said he strongly believes he can close the gap without another tax increase.

"It would take a 70 percent collection rate and some venturing into some new areas," he said. "... Six weeks ago we found over three months of billing that had not been sent ... We've taken positive steps to improve the paperwork. We're not trying to do smoke and mirrors."

EMS Director Curtis Brock said the county can bring in more money billing for the Intermediate level service, too. A call at the basic EMT level is billed at $250, while if the same call required Intermediate level care, the billing would be $400. The county receives an estimated 5,100 to 5,500 calls a year, he said. He said the county has seen a 50 percent increase in the number of calls requiring advance life support in the past six weeks.

Commissioners plan to discuss it at their board meeting on Monday.