Give me prime rib, not round steak

Published 12:00 am Saturday, February 19, 2005

On this page last week, a fellow columnist addressed several issues within Hertford County government.

I definitely agreed with one certain topic – how is the money being used that we – at least those of us with a telephone bill in our name – pay monthly in E-911 surcharges. For those of us with cell phones, we make an additional contribution to the county’s coffers on a monthly basis.

Those funds are specifically earmarked for electronic upgrades to the county’s E-911 communication system – one designed to hasten emergency response teams to our doors when bad luck comes our way.

The thought process behind these monthly surcharges is a sound idea. The question is when, and on what items, will this money be spent? I’ve got this feeling in the pit of my stomach that some of these funds have already been depleted. But on what? Were the funds spent within the window of allowable items that could be purchased with this particular pool of money? It’s got me wondering. I promise to follow up on this.

The second item my esteem colleague addressed last week was Hertford County’s highly controversial &uot;franchise agreement.&uot; I wasn’t covering the Hertford County Commissioners when this agreement was first proposed, but I do understand its inception. It was put in place to ensure the health and well being of every county citizen upon the time they, or a friend or family member, summon an emergency or non-emergency response team for medical transport.

There’s a big difference between the two response teams. One requires its employees to undergo rigorous training in order to respond to the critical care needs of a caller in an emergency situation. The other is basically a privately owned transport unit – taking non-emergency patients for doctor’s appointments and for non-critical care trips to and from the hospital.

I was covering the Board late last year when a decision was reached not to grant franchise agreements to a pair of out-of-county applicants. Both companies had proven track records of providing non-emergency medical transport within their home counties. Both were well-managed and well trained and I was stunned when the Commissioners axed their proposals, based upon the recommendation of a committee designed to oversee medical transport within Hertford County.

I, like my colleague, wondered what was going on behind the scenes. Is there a conspiracy to deny what I consider as one of our country’s strongest attributes – free enterprise?

Then, the power of logical reasoning took over. After reading this week of two other North Carolina counties, most particularly Martin County due to their close proximity, considering franchise agreements for medical transport within their borders, it dawned on me that this &uot;agreement&uot; isn’t a such bad idea.

I’m still holding my final judgment on this particular issue until I have a chance to read, and fully comprehend, Hertford County’s franchise agreement. But if its words are written the way I hope they are, this document may well prove to be a good thing.

I honestly feel the underlying factor in this process is that those who are in the business of medical transport – whether they are funded with tax dollars or private money – must live up to and maintain the rules and regulations of the agreement and be held accountable in case of a slip-up. I wouldn’t want myself or any member of my family transported by some &uot;fly-by-night&uot; company that’s just in the business because they know they can cash in on the Medicaid bonanza.

Now I feel that the county didn’t turn away the latest two franchise agreement applicants based upon a denial of free enterprise. Nor was it a reason of not being qualified. I’ve got this feeling it was done to paint a bigger picture – one that may have other fledging transport companies waiting in the wings.

I think my numbers are correct. Hertford County already has a half-dozen units (public, private and volunteer) that can provide non-emergency transport. That’s plenty for a county our size. Heck, Pitt County only has four.

What we don’t need are transport companies on every corner. There’s not enough business or money to go around and it’s very possible that if transport companies of questionable integrity are allowed to set-up shop, we may lose the good ones. We don’t want to order prime rib and receive round steak.