Local EMS gets go-ahead on ambulance franchise

Published 12:32 am Monday, September 12, 2016

County commissioners gave the OK for Chocowinity EMS to run non-emergency transports within the county.

On Tuesday, the Beaufort County Board of Commissioners approved the second reading of the squad’s application for an ambulance franchise, a move intended to bring some additional revenue to support the squad’s emergency services. Previously, Chocowinity EMS was authorized to run intrafacility transports requiring a paramedic between Vidant Beaufort Hospital and out-of-county facilities such as Vidant Medical Center.

The squad has been plagued with financial difficulties this year, leading to a July request to commissioners for the ambulance franchise and $50,000 in additional funding to keep both of the squad’s ambulances staffed and operating until the end of the year or until revenues came in from the non-emergency transports. Without the advance of the squad’s share of taxes collected from its service district, Chocowinity EMS Board Chairman Jay McRoy and EMS Capt. Shane Grier told commissioners the squad would be forced to shut down operation of its second truck. Two trucks are needed to keep up with Chocowinity EMS’ 1,000-plus calls a year, according to McRoy

The 6-1 vote in favor of granting the franchise came with a continuing discussion of the squad’s business practices.

“We spent a lot of time last month talking to Chocowinity about how they run their business, to find out they aren’t running their business,” Commissioner Hood Richardson said. “We have what I call a bad management situation.”

McRoy has said that the squad’s share of service-district tax revenue does not entirely pay for the cost of the first truck. The squad began making intrafacility transports to fill the deficit; the addition of non-emergency transports is intended to do the same, according to Chocowinity EMS officials.

Commissioner Frankie Waters said he had compared Chocowinity EMS’ numbers to White Oak EMS that operated in Belhaven and found that there was only a $27,000 difference in revenue, but Chocowinity’s expenses were $79,000 higher than White Oak’s.

“Based on what Frankie said, I think it would probably be a good idea for Chocowinity EMS to take a hard look at why their expenses are higher than Belhaven,” Commissioner Robert Belcher said.

“If this plan does not work, I’m not willing to have the county put one truck over there and Chocowinity EMS has one truck,” Waters said. “I’m willing to give Chocowinity EMS the chance to make it work, but if it doesn’t work the county needs to take over both trucks.”

Commissioner Ron Buzzeo told commissioners he firmly believes granting Chocowinity EMS an ambulance franchise would not cost the county any money in the long run.

Richardson disagreed, saying the enterprise would go “downhill very fast.” Richardson also questioned why Chocowinity EMS has “two sets of books,” and called for an audit of squad.

Grier responded that the squad is required to have two separate accounts, both of which are maintained through the Town of Chocowinity. One account is designated for revenue and expenses from its service district; the other for any other funds, such as from fundraisers.