Washington turning over EMS responsibilities inside city to county

Published 8:35 pm Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Washington’s City Council on Monday night authorized the city manager to inform Beaufort County officials that the county will be responsible for providing EMS coverage in the city beginning with the upcoming fiscal year.

That decision came after the council met in closed session. After returning to open session after a lengthy closed session, Councilman Doug Mercer made the motion for the county to assume the responsibility of providing EMS coverage in the city.

Mercer, reading from a hand-written statement on a legal-pad page, moved that “Beaufort County shall provide all EMS services in the City of Washington effective July 1, 2016.” Mayor Pro Tempore Virginia Finnerty seconded the motion.

“There was concern that there was information that was out in the county that basically said the county had authority, you know, to do billing and collection for EMS service. So, subsequently, the council brought it up and said they’d like to have the same level of service to all the citizens of Beaufort County. They’d like to put the county on notice that they’d like to transfer EMS over to the county effective July 1,” City Manager Bobby Roberson said after the meeting.

Roberson noted that under North Carolina law, the county is responsible for providing EMS coverage to its residents. North Carolina General Statute 143-517 reads: “Each county shall ensure that emergency medical services are provided to its citizens. Northing in this Article affects the power of local governments to finance ambulance operations or to support rescue squads. Nothing in this Article shall be construed to allow infringement on the private practice of medicine or the lawful operation of health care facilities.”

County Manager Brian Alligood said he learned of the council’s action by way of a voice mail from Roberson on Monday night. Alligood said he was caught off guard by the city’s move. Alligood met with Roberson Tuesday morning to discuss the council’s action.

“Ninety days is tight. We will do what we need to do to ensure that coverage is provided for the citizens of Washington and the county residents they (the city) are under contract to serve,” Alligood said Tuesday afternoon.

“I asked the question directly to Bobby — help me understand the reasoning behind City Council (addressing the issue) with it not being on the agenda. There was nothing on the agenda regarding that, as far as I could tell. … That’s why I said to him … ‘Help me understand why that occurred,’” Alligood said. “He said, ‘I don’t know why.’ Unfortunately, I didn’t get much understanding about that.”

Alligood said the next step for the county is to work with the city to decide the next steps related to the city’s decision. The county is “going to have to get busy” putting plans together to provide EMS coverage in areas now being covered by the city’s EMS personnel, he said.

Council member William Pitt, the council member probably most familiar with the city’s EMS program and who continues to make some EMS runs, opposes the city turning over EMS coverage in the city to the county. Pitt believes that if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it.

“Obviously, I’m not very happy. … I think people move to the cities for a reason. The move to the cities for services,” Pitt said Tuesday morning. “I’m not a fan of what’s in the offing. I feel the City of Washington is a strong enough organization that has protected the citizens of Washington and Beaufort County extremely well with the resources that have been available.”

Pitt said he hopes the “partnership” between the city and county works, but he prefers the city to be on its own when it comes to providing EMS coverage in the city. “We were on our won for so long. We do, probably, the best job of any EMS in the county. We ran the county at one time,” he said.

“I would like the county to rethink this,” said Pitt, adding that his remarks might not be popular with some. “A county-wide EMS system is a wonderful thing, but we’re not broken, so why are you going to fix something that’s not broken.”

For more details regarding the city’s decision regarding EMS coverage in the city, see Sunday’s Daily News.

About Mike Voss

Mike Voss is the contributing editor at the Washington Daily News. He has a daughter and four grandchildren. Except for nearly six years he worked at the Free Lance-Star in Fredericksburg, Va., in the early to mid-1990s, he has been at the Daily News since April 1986.
Journalism awards:
• Pulitzer Prize for Meritorious Public Service, 1990.
• Society of Professional Journalists: Sigma Delta Chi Award, Bronze Medallion.
• Associated Press Managing Editors’ Public Service Award.
• Investigative Reporters & Editors’ Award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Public Service Award, 1989.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Investigative Reporting, 1990.
All those were for the articles he and Betty Gray wrote about the city’s contaminated water system in 1989-1990.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Investigative Reporting, 1991.
• North Carolina Press Association, Third Place, General News Reporting, 2005.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Lighter Columns, 2006.
Recently learned he will receive another award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Lighter Columns, 2010.
4. Lectured at or served on seminar panels at journalism schools at UNC-Chapel Hill, University of Maryland, Columbia University, Mary Washington University and Francis Marion University.

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