County approves new Chocowinity EMS contract
Published 7:54 pm Tuesday, April 7, 2015
CHOCOWINITY — Residents on the south side of the Pamlico River can rest a little easier knowing that paramedic-level service will continue there.
By a vote of 6-1, a new contract was approved for Chocowinity EMS at Monday’s Beaufort County Board of Commissioners meeting. The contract was several months, and meetings, in the making, as Chocowinity EMS and commissioners worked out exactly what services the squad is allowed to provide.
“I’m relieved, to be honest with you,” said Chocowinity EMS Capt. Shane Grier who, along with many south side residents, was in attendance at the Monday meeting.
In December of 2014, commissioners voted to cancel Chocowinity EMS’ contract after an increasingly contentious series of events: Chocowinity EMS’ notification to the county that the squad would be performing intrafacility transports between Vidant-Beaufort Hospital and Vidant Medical Center in Greenville, and the subsequent response, in which Beaufort County Emergency Management coordinator John Pack informed Vidant-Beaufort Hospital that the transports were not authorized, followed by Chocowinity EMS’ lawsuit against the county. A district court judge ruled in Chocowinity EMS’ favor, giving the squad the nod to make runs between hospitals in order to fund the squad’s paramedic-level service, however, within weeks, commissioners voted to cancel the contract in order to bring Chocowinity back to the table to negotiate a new contract, they said.
It proved to be a hot-button issue, as south side residents felt emergency service was at risk — service paid for through fundraisers and a tax levied on every property owner in the district — and private non-medical transport business owners believed Chocowinity EMS, a non-profit, partially tax-supported entity, was in competition for transport services.
According to Grier, a committee including commissioners Robert Belcher, Gary Brinn and Ron Buzzeo met with Chocowinity EMS stakeholders twice before county attorney David Francisco wrote a contract that was acceptable to all parties.
The new contract specifies that, outside of emergency calls, Chocowinity EMS can only make intrafacility transports that require a paramedic on board to oversee the patient.
“We have to have a certificate of medical need from the attending physician in the ER,” Grier said.
With many concerned parties looking on, commissioners voted to approve the contract — the only dissenting vote came from Commissioner Hood Richardson, who objected to the contact’s approval because the contract had not been reviewed by the existing public safety committee. He said the contract needed to be reviewed for compliance with the county EMS ordinance, written in 2014.
While commissioners Belcher and Frankie Waters voted to approve the contract, both expressed reservations during discussion.
“It’s never been an issue for me whether we were going to have service. The issue was the viability,” Waters said. “The business plan is based on Vidant asking them to make transports. If it stops, it’s going to need to be subsidized. … I have a real concern whether this plan will work after 12 months.”
Belcher expressed concern about the amount of time — by his calculations, 110 hours a month — where the Chocowinity EMS service district would only be covered by one ambulance, should a first ambulance be on a paramedic-level call and a second, making a intrafacility transport.
Belcher also expressed the need for a comprehensive, countywide plan for emergency services.
Chocowinity EMS’ contract goes into effect on July 1 for two years.