County issues new ambulance franchise

Published 7:46 pm Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Beaufort County commissioners voted to allow a new ambulance franchise to operate in the county.

At Monday night’s regular meeting, commissioners approved the franchise for Priority Care Medical Transport, a medical transport company out of Bertie County, with a 7-0 vote.

Six other non-emergency transport services currently have franchises to operate in Beaufort County: Coastal Medical Transport, Roanoke Medical Transport, Care First Medical Transport, Tar heel Medical Transport, Bertie Ambulance Service and White Oak Medical Transport. Of those, Coastal, Bertie and Tar heel have physical stations within the county.

Debate about whether the county could support enough business for another franchise preceded the vote in Monday night’s meeting, as well as during the December 2015 regular meeting when the application for the franchise initially was read by Beaufort County EMS Director John Flemming. Commissioner Hood Richardson questioned whether there would be complaints from existing providers about a further division of non-emergency transport calls.

“It’s up to the company to make their own business,” Flemming answered. “My opinion is that any new company coming in is going to have to work hard for business.”

He added that the county does not have a cap on the number of franchises it issues.

In January’s regular meeting, Flemming reported to the Board that from Jan. 1, 2014 to Jan. 1, 2015, 6,184 non-emergency transports were made by county-franchised services. However, he said that number was likely underestimated: when call volumes are high, franchises also operating in other counties can call in out-of-county ambulances to make local trips. Those trips are then attributed to the ambulance’s home county in the reporting system, not to the county in which the trip is made, he said.

While Richardson previously said he was concerned more competition would deteriorate service, other commissioners believe competition is healthy.

“I don’t think we can stop free enterprise,” Commissioner Gary Brinn said in January’s meeting. “When I was in business, good competition was always good for business.”