County hears preliminary EMS report

Published 7:54 pm Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Beaufort County commissioners learned about the state of EMS in the county from the experts.

David Schrader, president of The Polaris Group, presented his preliminary findings at Monday’s Board of Commissioners meeting. The company specializes in Emergency Management Services and Public Safety and was hired by the county to dissect current EMS services and suggest ways in which to improve them. Schrader made four onsite visits, meeting with EMS providers, commissioners, dispatch and others during May, June and July.

Schrader’s basic findings were that, “Beaufort County’s EMS System is a franchise-based, multiple provider arrangement with multiple levels of clinical service, pockets of unreliable response, highly variable costs and fees for service and insufficient coordination and organization to reliably meet the County’s responsibilities under state law.”

In short, billing, organization and increased coverage for those areas lacking it

According to the report, of the eight agencies contracted by the county for EMS, five (Washington, Broad Creek, White Oak, Chocowinity and Aurora) offer paramedic-level Advanced Life Support (ALS); three (Bath, Pinetown and Pamlico Beach) offer basic-level service, and it’s those gaps that need to be filled. In Bath, the issue is response failures, due to volunteers being unable to respond. In Blounts Creek, it’s long response times, because of its distance from Aurora and Chocowinity. For all three, there is a lack of paramedic-level service.

Schrader recommended that the $500,000 grant the county receives today from Vidant Health Foundation for improved paramedic-level service be used to establish a county ALS ambulance at Bath at a combination paid and volunteer station. He also recommended a Quick Response Vehicle (QRV), manned by a county-employed paramedic, be set up to cover Pinetown, Pantego and Pamlico Beach. Already, county EMS Director John Flemming is discussing coverage for Blounts Creek with Chocowinity EMS, Schrader said. Should that not work out, Schrader recommended establishing another QRV and paramedic in the Blounts Creek area. These suggestions would augment a valuable volunteer force, Schrader said.

Dispatch in Washington is problematic, however.

“You currently have two dispatch centers which creates some problems,” Schrader said.

All emergency calls go to the county dispatch center, which currently transfers its Washington 911 calls to Washington dispatch, at a time loss of approximately two and half minutes per call because information must be repeated by the caller, Schrader said. His recommendation is for the county either to consider consolidating EMS dispatch or install a CAD-to-CAD link, which would link data from system to system so repetition is unnecessary.

The report also urges commissioners to consider establishing countywide billing of Medicaid, Medicare and private insurers for EMS services, setting ambulance rates and instituting collection policies. Provider funding, to be disbursed monthly, would also be included in the county’s annual budget, a move he said would avoid potential future funding emergencies.

Commissioners instructed Schrader to continue the study.

“Some of those ideas are good ideas; some of them may not work,” Commissioner Hood Richardson said.

Commissioner Ron Buzzeo called the preliminary report very professional and detailed.

“I see this as a way of improving health care service to the residents of the county,” Buzzeo said.