Bertie to privatize EMS

Published 7:19 am Tuesday, June 4, 2013

WINDSOR – Those in need of emergency medical services perhaps would not notice the name on an EMS vehicle responding to the scene. All they care about at that particular time is how fast that vehicle can respond and hopefully the EMS crew is highly trained.

For decades the EMS needs of Bertie County citizens have been handled by familiar faces…..a mix of community-minded volunteers and paid staffers that answered the call around the clock for help.

However, with ever changing mandates from the state and federal level, and a significant drop in the number of volunteers coupled with rising EMS operational costs, county leaders have discussed at great length on how to offer a better, more efficient service to the citizens at the most reasonable cost.

Those discussions, which date to at least December 2010, have produced a plan – that to privatize EMS services in Bertie County. Local officials are currently seeking proposals from qualified, North Carolina permitted, ambulance providers to manage and operate the county’s EMS program. The overall objective of Bertie County is to provide emergency medical services at the advanced life support (ALS) level within the legal boundaries of the county 24 hours per day, 365 days per year.

“There’s been a lot of pencil put to paper on this issue,” said Bertie County Emergency Management Director Mitch Cooper. “One of the key areas of discussion was the fragmented EMS system we now have in place – emergency responders trained at different levels of expertise, from Basic EMT, to EMT-I (Intermediate), all the way up to the Paramedic level.

“Don’t get me wrong, those now providing EMS in our county have done a fantastic job over the years,” Cooper stressed. “What we desire is to enhance that. It’s the wish of county officials to provide highest level of care that we offer financially.”

Cooper continued, “On paper and looking at the future of EMS and the future mandates of Medicare and Medicaid from the federal and state levels, we feel that privatizing emergency medical services is the best option for the county and the best option for the taxpayers of this county. We looked at the possibility of the county putting such a 24/7/365 system in place, but the start-up costs and the operational costs were extremely high.”

Wallace Perry, chairman of the Bertie County Board of Commissioners, agreed.

“When you closely study the mandates that are passed down from the state and from the federal government to the counties, and figure in the different levels of (EMS) care we currently have here plus the fact that volunteerism isn’t what it once was, privatization is the way to go,” Perry noted. “It gives us everything we’re looking for, highly trained and skilled manpower 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. We want what’s best for the citizens of this county.”

Perry said a plan was studied that would put the county in the full-time business of providing EMS, much like the way Hertford County currently operates.

“If we decided to go into this ourselves we were looking at a fairly large capital outlay up front and then the annual operational costs,” he said. “We feel that after studying this at great lengths that privatizing EMS is the most cost-efficient way to go and still provide the level of service and medical care expected by our citizens and others who are visiting or passing through our county and find themselves in a medical emergency.”

Currently, those services are rendered by three, independently operated, predominately volunteer, non-profit organizations located in various communities within the county – EMS crews covering the Windsor, Colerain and Lewiston-Woodville districts.

“Once the contract is awarded to the EMS service provider, we will remain with that three district format with the possibility of adding a fourth district (the Merry Hill area) in the future,” Cooper said.

At the present time, the Town of Colerain, the Town of Windsor, and Lewiston-Woodville Fire & EMS, Inc. own the facilities from which a mixture of paid EMS personnel and volunteers answer calls. Those current buildings could possibly be used by the new service provider, but that’s not a guarantee since the county does not own those facilities.

“We have received guarantees from those three entities that they will lease their buildings to the county and, in turn, we’ll allow the service provider of our EMS program to operate out of those facilities,” Perry said.

Had that not occurred, Cooper said it would be the county’s responsibility to seek and find suitable buildings within the three existing districts for use by the service provider.

As far as the paid staff and volunteers currently providing EMS in the county, Perry stated it’s the hope of the board that the new service provider will look at the qualifications possessed by those individuals.

“Whichever company is awarded the contract, we feel certain they will need EMT’s to staff the different stations,” Perry noted. “Hopefully, everyone currently qualified as an EMT will have the opportunity to land a job with the new provider. We will encourage that service provider to take a look at the existing personnel.”

As far as the volunteers, Perry said there is discussion concerning a possible plan for the county to maintain an ambulance as a way for that group to serve as first responders.

“We have been blessed to have many loyal volunteers to serve this county as EMT’s over the years and we do not want to see them completely kicked out of the program,” Perry remarked. “Maybe this first responder plan will work out, but there are still a lot of things to iron out with that.”

To date, Perry said that five companies have responded to a Request for Proposal of services. He added that all five were represented during a mandatory pre proposal conference held May 16 at the Bertie County Office Building.

According to the timetable spelled out in the RFP (Request for Proposals), bids are due no later than 2 p.m. on June 25. The results of the submitted proposals are scheduled to be announced July 10. By Aug. 12, Bertie officials hope to have completed the negotiations with the service provider they choose and execute a contract. The start-up date for that five-year contract is proposed to begin Oct. 1.

The RFP makes it clear that awarding the contract, “will be made to the service provider offering the most advantageous proposal. The County will not be obligated to accept the lowest priced proposal, but will make an award based on what it determines to be the best interests of the County after all factors, both technical and price related, have been evaluated.”

As part of its due diligence, the county will have the right to make reference checks on each business submitting a proposal as well as considering information from other sources concerning a potential service provider, such as that company’s capability and performance under other contracts.

The county also has the right to conduct criminal history and other background investigations of the service provider, its officers, directors, shareholders, or partners, as well as managerial, supervisory, and line personnel retained by the business for the performance of the contract. The company’s financial stability will also be studied by county officials as each firm offering a proposal must include the most recent and complete audited and certified financial statement of the corporation.

Cooper said the service provider will handle the billing for the services rendered.


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.

email author More by Cal