Hertford Co. still can#8217;t get it right

Published 12:00 am Monday, May 26, 2008

After years of trying, Hertford County still can’t get it right.

It’s been at least five years, maybe more, since I covered the Hertford County Board of Commissioners for this newspaper. I can recall the debates that occurred at those meetings concerning non-emergency medical transport providers. I even penned a column a while back how I felt that county officials were denying free enterprise.

Now, five-plus years later, the board remains struck on this issue.

I was appalled when I edited Thadd White’s story (Board

tables franchise addition) that appeared in Saturday’s edition. Even though it would have been a bit too wordy for my liking, the headline should have read: HC Commissioners deny White Oak Transport once again.

When this franchise issue first surfaced years ago, I recall White Oak applying to provide non-emergency transport in Hertford County. They were denied then and after repeated efforts to gain a franchise in Hertford County, White Oak, to date, still doesn’t have one.

Now this is where the whole thing gets crazy. White Oak, based in Bertie County, can transport a patient to a medical provider in Hertford County as long as that patient does not reside in Hertford County. In other words, they can transport someone living in Bertie County, where they have a franchise, to Roanoke-Chowan Hospital, but they can’t take that patient home. Is that crazy or what?

For that particular patient to return to Bertie County, a transport service with a franchise in Hertford County must take them home, or they can return by private vehicle.

What makes this situation even more unique is that the County of Hertford is in the non-emergency transport business. Something smells fishy here and it isn’t the flounder I had for lunch.

What’s even stranger is the fact that during their March 18 meeting, the Hertford County Commissioners listened as Steve Allen, hired by the county to observe and offer recommendations about the status of Hertford County Emergency Medical Services (EMS), said the county needs to address the non-emergency transport currently being conducted by HC EMS.

“You have three options,” he said. “One, stop it. Two, continue to do it, but hire staff to put on it. Three, contract it. You have the vehicles, but you do not have the man-power.”

Adding staff means adding salaries and benefits. Wouldn’t it be cost-effective to contract those non-emergency transport services to a private company and let the HC EMS crews do what they do best…provide medical attention to those with real emergencies?

Currently, Bertie Ambulance Service and East Care ALS along with HC EMS have the right to operate as non-emergency transporters in the county.

What really bothers me is what if I, someone in my immediate family or a close friend have a real medical emergency and we have to wait while HC EMS, often times with only one truck to cover the entire county, can roll a truck our way. I’m not blaming the EMT’s for slow response; I’m blaming county officials for not having enough of those hard-working folks on the job. And when I say “on the job” that doesn’t mean they’re transporting a surgical patient to Greenville or Norfolk for a follow-up visit with their doctor.

At last week’s meeting, Hertford County Manager Loria Williams said she did not believe there was a demonstrated need for more private firms offering medical transport. Williams said she believed the addition of another HC EMS unit in June would alleviate the problem.

I think the manager is dead wrong on this one….it will only add to the problem.

Cal Bryant is the Editor of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald and Gates County Index. He can be reached at 332-7207 or via email at cal.bryant@r-cnews.com.