Committee formed for EMS resolution

Published 2:09 pm Wednesday, February 18, 2015

In a first step to resolve the conflict between the county and Chocowinity EMS, Beaufort County Board of Commissioners gathered Monday night in a special-called meeting to discuss the issue.

“We set up a committee to study EMS — the way it’s set up — then we are going to get together and try to figure out the best way to handle the issue,” said Gary Brinn, board chairman.

Brinn, commissioners Robert Belcher and Ron Buzzeo were named to the committee. Interim County Manager Ken Windley and County Attorney David Francisco will also attend committee meetings, Brinn said.

Commissioner Jerry Langley said the committee will allow county officials to work with Chocowinity EMS to come up with a resolution, and he believes the two sides are not that far apart.

“There are some technicalities that need to be worked out,” Langley said. “Hopefully and prayerfully, it will happen, but if not it is what it is.”

The county terminated Chocowinity EMS’ contract in December. The EMS squad is the only paramedic-level nonprofit operating in the county. A breakdown in the relationship, and communication, between county officials and Chocowinity EMS leadership led to the cancelled contract. At it’s center is a dispute over the squad’s authorization to transfer patients between Vidant-Beaufort Hospital and Vidant Medical Center in Greenville, and whether these transports are in direct competition with private transport services, in addition to the fact that Chocowinity EMS is operating under a 13-year-old contract, which county officials say needs to be updated. Tensions further mounted when the county informed Vidant-Beaufort Hospital that the transports were not authorized, which resulted in cutting off a revenue stream for the nonprofit squad, which is only supported by a 3.5 percent tax on residents in the Chocowinity Township service district, donations and fundraisers. In response, Chocowinity EMS filed suit against the county. In December, District Court Judge Michael Paul found in favor of Chocowinity EMS and the squad resumed its intrafacility transports. Between the August notice to Vidant and Paul’s ruling, it’s estimated that Chocowinity EMS lost $50,000 and much of its paramedic staff at the time, according to Jay McRoy, chairman of the Chocowinity EMS board of directors.

Brinn said in the coming weeks, committee members will be sitting down with Chocowinity EMS officials to bridge the communication gap, to listen to their concerns and share their own.

“We’re going to see if we can let calmer heads prevail and come up with a solution that will make everybody happy,” Brinn said.

The first meeting of the EMS committee will take place Thursday at 2 p.m. in the County Administrative Offices in Washington. The meeting is open to the public.