Board makes no recommendation for Chocowinity EMS

Published 8:13 pm Wednesday, July 27, 2016

The county EMS oversight committee declined to recommend Chocowinity EMS apply for an ambulance franchise.

The EMS squad is struggling to pay for the operation of its second ambulance, an issue Chocowinity EMS Board Chairman Jay McRoy and Capt. Shane Grier brought before the Beaufort County Board of Commissioners in July’s regular meeting. Initially, the request made was to change Chocowinity EMS’ contract to allow the squad to make non-emergency medical transports within the county and make money to support trucks going on 911 calls, along with $50,000 to keep the second ambulance running until funds started coming in or the end of the year, whichever came first. Commissioners instead voted to advance some of the squad’s EMS service tax money to support the second truck and advised the squad to apply for an ambulance franchise through the EMS oversight committee.

Tuesday night, McRoy summed up the situation for the oversight committee.

“The commissioners requested that we apply for a franchise in that what is going on is we’ve got two trucks that we are staffing 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Tax money doesn’t quite pay the cost of the first truck,” McRoy said. “The commissioners realize it would be easy for us to stop the second truck. Moneywise, we would be OK. The problem is if we went back to one truck, if that truck was out of district, on mutual aid call … the nearest truck would be in Aurora, 30 miles away.”

At approximately 1,000 calls per year, Chocowinity EMS’ need for two trucks operating is not debated. However, plenty of debate followed, as committee members questioned McRoy and Grier about the benefit of expanding transport services. Chocowinity EMS previously fought the county to be allowed to make paramedic-level hospital-to-hospital transports, which was ultimately allowed, also in an effort to fund operations.

But according to Beaufort County Medical Director Emily Pendley, those calls to Chocowinity EMS for hospital-to-hospital transport aren’t being answered.

“When we call you during the week, during the day, we never get a response,” Pendley said. “Every time we call, they say they’re not staffed for transports.”

Staffing is an issue with many EMS squads — both Broad Creek EMS and Pamlico Beach EMS also addressed the oversight committee about both organizations’ staffing situations on Tuesday. However, the issue for Chocowinity EMS is funding, rather than available staff, and the squad is unable to make the lucrative transports. To do so would violate the terms of Chocowinity EMS’ contract, Grier said.

According to Beaufort County EMS Director John Flemming, Chocowinity EMS has turned down 60 hospital-to-hospital calls in the past three months.

Whether Beaufort County can support another non-emergency transport service is another issue at stake.

“Non-emergency transports have changed a lot. We don’t collect what we used to get,” said Ricky White, owner of White Oak EMS, who attended the meeting. “They should be way ahead of the game (with) hospital-to-hospital. I’d like to see them continue on these paramedic calls, hospital-to-hospital.”

Pendley encouraged Chocowinity EMS to focus on the hospital-to-hospital transports from Vidant Beaufort Hospital, as well as contact doctors’ offices such as Washington Pediatrics, to make up the lack of funding for the second truck.

“If we had known this problem existed at budget time — we increased the (EMS) taxes in some places — we would have taxed (Chocowinity) by another 1.5 cents, to 5 cents. That way, we wouldn’t have had this problem,” said Beaufort County Commissioner Robert Belcher, who also serves on the EMS oversight committee. The EMS oversight committee voted unanimously to make no recommendation as to granting Chocowinity EMS’ ambulance franchise to the Beaufort County Board of Commissioners at the commissioners’ next meeting.