Privatized EMS vote taken Monday

Published 8:49 am Tuesday, July 16, 2013

WINDSOR – During its series of meetings beyond their usual venue of Windsor, the Bertie County Commissioners meeting in Colerain on Monday cast their final vote on an ambulance provider to manage the county’s EMS program.

Currently, neighboring Hertford County is served by a county-wide 24/7/365 EMS system much like what Bertie is seeking to implement.

In June when the proposals for the service were made public, county Emergency Management Director Mitch Cooper called for the county to give this the highest priority.

“There’s been a lot of pencil put to paper on this issue,” Cooper said. “One of the key areas of (previous) 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 went on to point out. “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.”

Newly named County Manager Scott Sauer said on Monday that this has been a very careful process and discussion went to great lengths to demonstrate how to best offer a better, more efficient service to the citizens of Bertie at its most reasonable cost.

“This project has been in the process for many months. County Attorney Lloyd Smith has reviewed the key elements because this is a primary action item,” Sauer said.

Currently, ambulance service is rendered in Bertie County by three, independently operated, predominately volunteer, nonprofit organizations located in various communities within the county – EMS crews covering the Windsor, Colerain and Lewiston-Woodville districts.

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.

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

“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,” said Wallace Perry, chairman of the Bertie Commissioners. “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.”

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

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.

If the commissioners do reach a decision Monday night as to which service provider will be chosen, they hope to have a contract signed by Aug. 12. The start-up date for that five-year contract is proposed to begin Oct. 1.

The News-Herald will have more in-depth reporting of Monday’s vote to select an EMS provider and local reaction to that decision in our Thursday edition.