Choco EMS gets go-ahead on franchise

Published 8:03 pm Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Chocowinity EMS is on its way to getting an ambulance franchise.

Monday, the Beaufort County Board of Commissioners approved the first reading of Chocowinity EMS’ application for an ambulance franchise, which would allow the squad to perform non-emergency transports to and from facilities in the county. A second reading is required at commissioners’ meeting, before a Board vote could approve the franchise.

The request comes after financial uncertainty led Chocowinity EMS to request additional funding from the county to keep its second ambulance staffed and running. While the Board declined during its July meeting to give Chocowinity EMS $50,000 to keep the second ambulance operational through the end of the year, commissioners decided to instead advance part of the squad’s share of the county-collected EMS service district tax funds. At the same meeting, Chocowinity EMS Board Chairman Jay McRoy and Capt. Shane Grier requested the squad be allowed to do local non-emergency transports, the billing for which would help pay to operate the second ambulance. Chocowinity EMS’ contract currently allows the squad to do paramedic-level hospital-to-hospital transports to points outside the county — also an attempt to find outside revenue to support a second ambulance.

Questions regarding Chocowinity EMS’ ability to answer additional calls came up in Monday’s meeting, on the heels of last week’s EMS Oversight Committee meeting in which the committee declined to make any recommendation to the Board of Commissioners about whether Chocowinity EMS should be given an ambulance franchise. Beaufort County Medical Director Emilie Pendley encouraged the squad to make a better effort to respond to the more lucrative paramedic-level, hospital-to-hospital transports — 60 of which had been turned down in three months because of staffing issues — rather than broaden the range of calls the squad is making.

Though there was much continuing discussion as to whether the expansion of services would benefit the squad, commissioners decided to give Chocowinity EMS the go-ahead with the franchise. It was also made clear that if Chocowinity is allowed to do non-emergency transports within the county, putting the squad in direct competition with private ambulance companies, then all squads in the county should be allowed to apply for their own franchises.

According to Commissioner Hood Richardson, it’s not an ambulance franchise that will solve Chocowinity EMS’ financial issues, but good management and coming up with a solid business plan.

“This is really bad idea because we all just sat here and heard them say they cannot run their business as is,” Richardson said. “The problem I have with this: is Chocowinity going to come back with a solution to their problem?”

Board Chairman Jerry Langley said the county, in the meantime, should be looking at other solutions.

“Given that we’re giving them to opportunity to right their ship, what I want to look at — I’m not going to wait and get all the way to end and then there’s trouble,” Langley said, adding that the county should already have options in place should Chocowinity EMS not be able to support the second truck by the end of the year.

At just under 1,000 calls per year, stakeholders agree that Chocowinity EMS needs two ambulances available for emergency calls. Commissioner Gary Brinn suggested that if Chocowinity EMS cannot find a way to fund the second ambulance, the county could take over part of its operation.

“You make that second truck work and we won’t have to come to Chocowinity and do a second truck,” Brinn said.

“I thoroughly believe that decision has already been made,” Grier responded.

At the suggestion of County Manager Brian Alligood, commissioners also made a change to Chocowinity EMS’ contract that allows the squad to go after bad debts — people who have not paid the bills for their ambulance rides. Previously, the collection could only happen with the approval of the EMS director and the county board.