Picking up the pieces

Published 9:29 am Tuesday, March 5, 2013

WINDSOR – Half is better than nothing.

On Monday morning, Larry Mizell, Chief of Lewiston-Woodville Fire & EMS, made a two-fold request of the Bertie County Board of Commissioners – $25,000 to cover the to date losses incurred by his organization since taking over for Colerain EMS, or $50,000 to carry them through until the end of the current fiscal year (June 30).

Following a long discussion between the commissioners, Mizell and Bertie County Emergency Management Coordinator Mitch Cooper, the board agreed to $25,000. But that money from the county’s fund balance comes with a stipulation – that Lewiston-Woodville Fire & EMS provide the commissioners with some sort of budget that projects their expenses from now until June 30.

“We need to know what their expenses are projected to be over the next few months,” said Commissioner John Trent following the meeting. “We completely understand that the numbers they give us are assumptions, but we need something to go on, something we can use if and when they come back to us again for money between now and the end of the current fiscal year. Personally, I feel fairly certain that this board will address this issue again before June 30.”

Mizell, in his presentation to the board, said over a period of four months and five days (since taking over for Colerain EMS in mid-October of last year), Lewiston-Woodville had lost $24,911.28.

“We’re not looking to make a profit; we’re just looking to break even,” Mizell told the commissioners.

He added that the losses are being incurred due to the basic fact that nearly 60 percent of Lewiston-Woodville’s calls within the Colerain EMS service district were Medicare or Medicaid clients. Mizell added that through his calculations, Lewiston-Woodville’s collection rate for those types of calls is 45 percent.

“I don’t know nor can I predict what Medicare and Medicaid is writing off (those bills for service),” Mizell said.

Lewiston-Woodville’s operational costs have also increased for fuel plus wear and tear on their EMS vehicles. Mizell also said there were other operational costs to consider, including insurance and worker’s comp for their volunteers and paid employees.

“We either need $25,000 now or $50,000 to get us through ‘til June 30,” Mizell stressed. “If you agree to the $50,000 and we don’t use it all, we’ll pay the county back (on the unused portion) because we are a non-profit (organization) and we want to remain that way.”

As far as to when Colerain EMS, which experienced financial and management issues last year and was forced to cease operations, would return to service, Cooper said that would not happen during the current fiscal year.

“They will not be able to stand on their own prior to June 30,” he said. “There are also some IRS issues facing Colerain EMS at this time.”

Cooper was asked if the financial hardship on Lewiston-Woodville could have been avoided.

“We didn’t see this coming,” he said. “We didn’t have a lot of data from Colerain (of their operational expenses). We do know they have $122,000 billed for services (before they ceased operations), but I do not know what, if any, of that can be collected.”

There was discussion among the commissioners of which entity would receive a portion or all of that $122,000, especially considering that Colerain EMS currently does not have a Medicare Provider ID number.

Commissioner Ron Wesson said the outstanding payments should come to the county.

However, one fact stood head and shoulders above the rest as the commissioners stood firmly behind providing EMS services to those in the Colerain service district, but to do so without bankrupting Lewiston-Woodville EMS.

Trent motioned to use $25,000 from fund balance to help Lewiston-Woodville EMS recover its losses to date and to revisit this issue again if needed between now and June 30. Commissioner Rick Harrell offered a second and the motion passed without objection.

Monday’s decision wasn’t the first time the Bertie Commissioners have dealt with the Colerain EMS issue. Last summer they agreed to pay out their annual $54,000 appropriation to Colerain over a six-month period rather than the traditional 12-month cycle in an effort to remain in operation. Despite that help, Colerain EMS had to eventually agree to close their doors for six months (beginning last October) to reorganize and take the steps necessary to obtain a Medicare Provider ID number, which allows them to properly bill that federal entity for services provided.

Cooper said Colerain EMS officials were given a choice of which service provider they wanted to fill in while they reorganized. Colerain made the decision to approach Lewiston Woodville about taking over the duties.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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