County funds more paramedics

Published 8:37 pm Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Beaufort County commissioners approved 16 new hires last week that will ensure all county residents have access to paramedic-level service.

“This will give us a uniform umbrella of minimum coverage of a paramedic anywhere in the county,” said John Flemming, the county’s director of EMS.

Commissioners voted to approve an amendment that adds $300,000 to the department’s current budget. The funds will allow for the hire of 12 fulltime paramedics, four EMT-Intermediates and 10 part-timers to cover vacations, sick days and holidays for the fulltime employees.

Flemming said eight paramedics will be manning Quick Response Vehicles (QRVs) to be stationed at strategic points in Pinetown and Blounts Creek; another eight will be attached to a new ambulance slated for Bath Township. In a recent study by EMS consultants The Polaris Group, those areas were designated as areas with limited access to paramedic-level service.

“It’s going to help us fill in the holes where it’s going to help raise the paramedic level of care,” said county Manager Brian Alligood.

While some have expressed concern that the expansion of paramedic service will infringe on volunteer departments already covering those areas, Alligood said the additional service will only serve to augment the existing departments.

“What we want to make sure that folks know is that this isn’t some kind of plan for doing away with existing agencies that already do that work,” Alligood said. “This is an opportunity to increase the amount of coverage by paramedics and we’re going to be working with those agencies to make it happen. … They’re doing a good job.”

Not all commissioners agreed with the decision to fund the new hires.

Commissioner Hood Richardson, who has long questioned the need for countywide paramedic-level service, told commissioners he had “grave concerns” about the issue. He pointed out that the county could end up with a $3 million yearly price tag for the increase in service, once it’s not augmented by grants from Vidant Health.

“This is about money. This is about business and you need to be careful about what we’re getting into here,” Richardson said. “This whole thing fits together into a giant mirage.”

Richardson also questioned whether the to-be-hired paramedics will be Beaufort County residents, rather than part-timers from other counties who would be required to serve elsewhere during a widespread emergency.
“All of my employees I’m hiring are in Beaufort County,” Flemming responded.

The majority of commissioners, however, believe out-of-hospital medical service should be uniform throughout the county.

“We have paramedic service currently in this county in a few select areas, and I believe every resident of Beaufort County deserves paramedic-level (service),” Commissioner Robert Belcher said.

Commissioner Frankie Waters shared a recent medical incident involving his wife while she was in Washington and ending with an overnight hospital stay at Vidant Beaufort Hospital. Washington EMS responded to the emergency call.

“As a taxpayer and as a husband, as somebody who was affected, I appreciate (the level of service),” Waters said. “The only thing I can tell you is they met that need. The people in Washington are very fortunate.”

Waters pointed out that 85 percent of county tax money comes from rural areas, therefore all county residents should be provided the same level of service.

Commissioners voted 6-1 in favor of the budget amendment. Richardson had the dissenting vote.