01/25/05 — Duplin Board rejects proposal from Johnston Ambulance

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Duplin Board rejects proposal from Johnston Ambulance

By Bonnie Edwards
Published in News on January 25, 2005 2:03 PM

KENANSVILLE -- The Duplin County Board of Commissioners has rejected a company's proposal to provide paramedic-level emergency care for the county.

The commissioners voted Monday to reject the proposal by Johnston Ambulance Service.

On two other emergency-service issues facing the county the commissioners deadlocked. At issue was whether to raise the county's level of care to the paramedic level and whether to take on inter-hospital transportation, which is currently being done by private companies.

Commissioner David Fussell moved to postpone the Johnston Ambulance decision until the commissioners deal with next year's budget. Commissioner Zettie Williams seconded the motion.

But Commissioner L.S. Guy moved to reject the Johnston plan once and for all. The vote was unanimous. Ms. Williams abstained.

A large crowd in attendance forced the meeting to move to a bigger room. At a public hearing before the commissioners took action, more than a dozen people spoke on the three emergency services issues facing the county: whether to accept the Johnston proposal, deciding when to go to paramedic level service and the incorporation of inter-hospital transportation within the EMS.

Michael Smith, a volunteer with the Chinquapin EMS unit, asked commissioners to give their decisions more time. Other counties have given the transition to a paid emergency medical service more time, he said.

The county needs a three-year plan and a five-year plan, said Sprunt Hall, an emergency services worker for 30 years. He said EMS needs to stay a county operation.

"You never know what will happen with a private company," Hall said.

"We have made strides in improving EMS in the last year," Hall said. "Our collection rate has almost doubled."

Commissioners deadlocked 3-3 when they voted on whether to go to the paramedic level and on the question of transferring patients between hospitals.

Economic Development Director Woody Brinson told commissioners that his phone had been ringing off the hook from business people asking about the possibility of the tax rate going up to pay for emergency medical service. Companies that provide ambulance service say they can't survive losing the money from transporting people between hospitals, Brinson said.

"Inter-facility transport definitely needs to stay in the private sector," Brinson said.

Fussell moved to reject the county manager's recommendation to take on the inter-hospital transports. Ms. Williams provided the second.

Guy said he wanted the county to have an alternative way of raising money without having to raise taxes. Other counties are doing it, he pointed out.

The taxpayers are paying the bill any way, through Medicaid and Medicare, said Commissioner Arliss Albertson.

If the county takes on the inter-hospital service, it would put about 85 people out of work, Ms. Williams said.

"I'm hoping the county manager will continue to look for alternative sources of revenues," she said, "but let's not upset 80-some people."

The board deadlocked with Howard, Guy and Albertson wanting to start the inter-hospital transports and the other three against the idea.

Ms. Williams, Reginald Wells and David Fussell also wanted to remain at intermediate level until budget time. L.S. Guy, and Larry Howard wanted to go to paramedic level as soon as possible.

"Not many days go by that we don't have to call for a paramedic intercept from another county," said Howard, adding that he doesn't know how much longer the other counties will continue the assistance.

Duplin dipped into its fund balance this year for $2.3 million to keep from having to increase the tax rate more than 2.5 cents.

Wells said EMS has become the most divisive issue he has seen since he's been on the board.