Eastside EMS gains approval

Published 10:32 am Tuesday, November 22, 2011

JACKSON — A non-profit organization is requesting a franchise from Northampton County to provide emergency medical services to the southeastern part of the county.

On Monday, the Northampton County Board of Commissioners approved a request from Eastside EMS pending outside legal review. Before the discussion began, Board Attorney Charles Vaughan, as did EMS Director Charles Joyner, requested to be recused from discussions citing conflict of interest. Vaughan also serves as the attorney for the town of Woodland and Joyner due to a perceived conflict of interest because of his relationship with one of the officers/members with Eastside EMS.

According to County Manager Wayne Jenkins, Eastside EMS, a newly formed non-profit organization, is composed of former members of Woodland EMS. The latter was dissolved in September by the town after the municipal department’s budget ran into the red.

The county currently operates two full-time EMS crews that work out of Jackson. Recently the county added a third full-time EMS crew station in the Lake Gaston area.

Three volunteer rescue units (Conway-Severn, Jackson and Gaston) also serve the county.

“Up until September 1, Woodland Rescue Squad existed and provided basic life support service 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” Jenkins said. “So you can see how removing one of those units or vehicles out of our program requires us to adjust.”

Jenkins said the Jackson crews now have to service the Woodland, Rich Square and Potecasi areas and the response time depends on where the emergency vehicle is within the county and could range up to 18 minutes.

“That’s significant when you have Pine Forest Rest Home and two nursing facilities in Jackson,” he said.

Since Woodland EMS was dissolved, the county has called in a third part-time crew stationed in Jackson to work peak hours and days to make sure the service was provided in the Woodland area.

Jenkins said that service was provided by a part-time line item in the county’s emergency medical services budget.

Finance Officer Dot Vick reported earlier in the meeting that the department should be running with around 34 percent of their budget spent at this time of the year. Jenkins said the part-time line item is way above that percentage.

“We’re at more than 50 (percent),” he said. “We do not have enough funds in that part-time budget without internal budget adjustments or (pulling) from another source.”

While the need for another EMS is evident there also may be some legal hang ups between Woodland and Eastside EMS regarding equipment and a benevolent fund.

“There is an ongoing difference of opinion on ownership of vehicles and equipment that has been purchased over the years in all or in portions by local tax dollars, state dollars, federal dollars, fundraisers and contributions,” Jenkins said. “That has not been determined (ownership) as of yet.”

Jenkins said second point of interest that had yet to be determined is Woodland EMS’s benevolent fund, made up of fundraiser, contributions and county and town appropriations.

“That fund was used to operate Woodland EMS, primarily for capital investments,” he said. “The ownership of that fund, right now, is undetermined.”

Jenkins said the application of request filed by Eastside EMS meets requirements set by the county’s Emergency Medical Services Ordinance, which allows the commissioners to authorize franchises to providers wishing to provide emergency services.

Jenkins shared the application with the commissioners, noting with Eastside EMS there are no assets due to the current lack of vehicles and equipment.

However, Jenkins said, Eastside is in the possession of some equipment and has approval to utilize a unit from Conway-Severn Rescue Squad and one from the Jackson Volunteer Rescue Squad.

“It is also my understanding that Eastside EMS is in negotiations with and is planning to operate, if granted a franchise out of the old Creecy School in Rich Square,” he said.

He added the group must be franchised in order for Eastside to receive a provider license from the state.

Jenkins said the Northampton County Rescue Association, at this month’s meeting, reviewed the proposal and by consensus agreed there was a justified need to grant an emergency franchise to the group.

Commissioner Virginia Spruill questioned how the group would run their operation financially.

Jenkins said he could not answer the question directly, but could explain how other volunteer squads run their operations. He said some funding comes from non-emergency transports.

“Those funds generated from reimbursements and payback from the federal government, plus payments received by private insurance, plus any other contributions that may be made,” he said. “Remember, we make a $3,500 contribution to each of our volunteer rescue squads.”

Jenkins added he has not seen a business plan and has met with the officers with, at that time Woodland EMS, several times to walk through operational costs utilizing historic reimbursement numbers.

“There is reasonable expectations that they would be able to provide service and provide just as Conway-Severn, just as Jackson or Gaston,” he said.

“Would they be eligible for that $3,500 contribution,” asked Commission Chairwoman Fannie Greene.

Jenkins said yes, if the organization met the county’s EMS ordinance and if they go through the vehicle and equipment inspections as required. He added if the group was franchised they would be appropriated the $3,500 earmarked for the former Woodland EMS.

Spruill said she saw the need for another rescue organization, but was concerned with the possible legal ramifications with Woodland.

“The equipment, as I have been told, that Eastside EMS is in possession of that is the only thing because the other two trucks that they have are on loan from Jackson and Conway-Severn,” he said.

After further discussion, Commission Vice Chair James Hester noted authorizing the franchise is not giving the group a certificate of operation.

Hester moved to grant the franchise upon legal review. Spruill offered a motion and the measure passed without objection.