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Smooth operation

WINDSOR – “We’ve had a long, hard challenging week and a half,” said Bertie County Emergency Management Director Mitch Cooper in his opening remarks to the county’s Board of Commissioners at their meeting here Wednesday. “But we met all these challenges head-on.”

Cooper and now-interim Emergency Medical Services Director Matt Leicester appeared before the board to update them on what has happened with their department since First Med EMS of Wilmington abruptly ceased operating the county’s private emergency service needs last weekend would later filed Chapter-7 bankruptcy.

When First Med’s service terminated, the Commissioners, led by Chairman J. Wallace Perry, authorized a county State of Emergency, effective Dec. 9 empowering Cooper to seek whatever resources were available within the state and the region and seek mutual aid with the assistance of the North Carolina Office of Emergency Management. County Manager Scott Sauer was also directed to extend immediate offers of employment to First Med’s former employees on a temporary basis.

“One of the last updates we gave you is we have received our own ambulance license in the mail and it is framed and hanging in our office,” Cooper continued. “We have completed all our paperwork to start our billing process with our EMS consultants with which we’ve signed a six-month contract.  We received an NPI (National Provider Identifier) number and that paperwork will be sent to South Carolina to be processed so sometime within the coming days we should see some money start to trickle in and we should get our Medicare and Medicaid number so we can start seeing total re-imbursement.”

Cooper said as far as equipment, the EMT’s continue to use First Med’s equipment, ambulance trucks and medical supplies, but they have reached out to an unnamed supplier for medical supplies and to maintain the equipment on the trucks.

The county also purchased five trucks from Medex and Cooper says he hopes to have them up to service as quickly as possible. He said that despite Christmas coming next week, he and his staff would be working as much as possible.

“That (medical supply) company has also offered to come in free of charge and inspect the trucks and hopefully make sure all that’s certified,” he added. “It’ll be road-ready so when we need it we can put it out there and get it certified by the state.”

Leicester also spoke to the board and re-iterated that his EMT’s are sticking to the same requirements they had while with First Med.

“Holding to those standards is the best thing we can do for the citizens of this county,” Leicester said.

The Med Services Director’s overview for the month included still responding to 93 percent of all calls in under 20 minutes or less and 94.5 percent of those were primary calls with a response time of just under 11 minutes. They were also 4.5 seconds faster in getting out the door and those times are getting swifter.

“I’d like to commend our employees for that despite everything that has been going on with all the uncertainty and anxiety they have all faced,” he stated. “They’ve continued to do an exceptional job in spite of all that.”

Leicester said the morale of the EMT’s was much better than he expected and that they have expressed appreciation to he and Cooper over what the board has done.

“They realize that there are 2,500 other (former First Med) employees that don’t have jobs so they’re appreciative the county is taking care of them,” he added.

Leicester said that other than one employee missing one day for business reasons there were no other hitches in personnel.

“Everyone’s continued to come to work and to plod on and overall I think morale is very high right now despite everything,” he concluded.

Speaking for himself, Leicester said on a personal note he was doing much better than he had been on Dec. 9 when he appeared before the Commissioners to deliver the bad news.

“When I say they’re very appreciative that counts for me as well,” he said, managing a smile. “I can’t be more pleased with their professionalism and we hope we can continue to make you proud.”

“I stand behind all 52 (employees),” added Cooper. “They’re here for the best interest of Bertie County and they’ve showed that.”

Leicester said that thru Dec. 15 the EMT’s were at 130 calls so far which was on par with what it’s been since First Med’s service began on Oct. 1.