COUNTY COMPLAINT: Chocowinity EMS files complaint against Beaufort County

Published 8:00 pm Saturday, November 1, 2014

Chocowinity EMS has filed a complaint with the Beaufort County District Court, alleging that the county has overstepped its authority and interfered with the paramedic-level squad’s ability to support itself.

At issue is a July 7 letter from Chocowinity EMS to the county giving notification that CEMS would begin providing patient transfers from Vidant Beaufort Hospital to Vidant Medical Center in Greenville. According to the complaint, the increased revenue from the transports would allow CEMS to increase its personnel to two emergency medical response teams providing paramedic-level service on the south side of the Pamlico River 24 hours a day, seven days a week, while also decreasing the growing wait times for those patients in Washington who need to be moved to Greenville.

County officials, however, responded that the transfers violate CEMS’ contract with the county. In a letter dated Aug. 5, Emergency Management Coordinator John Pack informed Lou Montana-Rhodes, vice president of Vidant Beaufort Hospital’s patient care services, that CEMS was not authorized to perform the transfers.

“Because of this letter, grounded in a misinterpretation of the Contract, Vidant Beaufort Hospital has not asked, and will not ask, CEMS to perform interfacility transfers from within Vidant Beaufort Hospital to Vidant Medical Center in Greenville, North Carolina or an other facility outside the boundaries of the County,” reads the complaint.

CEMS maintains that the county only has regulatory authority in situations where “service begins and ends within the county limits,” as stated by Randall Likens, eastern regional systems specialist for the North Carolina Office of Emergency Medical Services.

The county disagrees.

“Well, I think the objection is that the county funds Chocowinity EMS with tax dollars that is collected from Chocowinity residents,” said Beaufort County attorney David Francisco. “And if Chocowinity EMS is utilizing that money to do other things outside of the county, that is objectionable.”

Wednesday, the same day the complaint was filed, CEMS Capt. Shane Grier said in a press release that CEMS’ reasoning behind doing the paid transfers is to improve the service to the residents of the county and the county’s effort to stop them is, instead, harming county residents. CEMS is asking the court to declare that the county has no authority to prohibit CEMS from providing interfacility transfers and interfere with any of CEMS’ lawful business activities.

County officials have 30 days to answer the allegations in the complaint and assert any claims they might have against CEMS, which Francisco believes will be the case.

“At this point, we’re just going to be working on an answer and potential counterclaims to the complaint, which is the usual situation,” Francisco said.

County Manager Randell Woodruff is hoping the situation can be worked out before it reaches court.

“I don’t view it as an insurmountable obstacle,” Woodruff said. “I just think it can be worked out. We just have to work together on it.”

County commissioners and staff will go into closed session to discuss the matter for the first time at Monday’s regularly called meeting. The Beaufort County Board of Commissioners meets at 5 p.m. on the first Monday of every month at the County Administrative Office, 121 W. Third St., Washington.