Back to normal

Published 8:55 am Monday, January 13, 2014

WINDSOR – When Bertie County Emergency Services Director Mitch Cooper canvassed the Board of Commissioners at their regular monthly meeting here this past Monday on how they were feeling, the members all answered, “Great!”.

“Good,” replied Cooper. “We’re going to keep it going that way.”

And with that remark Cooper and county EMS director Matt Leicester began giving their latest transition update to the board on the state of the Bertie emergency services system.

Things have gone so well since the county took over its own EMS system from the now-bankrupt First Med, which ceased all operations in December, that the State of Emergency order issued by board chairman J. Wallace Perry can now be lifted.

Perry issued the State of Emergency order at noon on Dec. 9, when First Med initially indicated they would no longer be the county’s EMS provider, which the company had held since Oct. 1. The emergency declaration empowered Cooper to seek state resources and mutual aid with the assistance of and through the North Carolina Office of Emergency Management.

“We haven’t had a lapse in coverage,” Cooper told the board. “We’re still providing to the citizens of this county and we plan to continue to do that as long as you allow us to.”

Cooper said the trucks purchased last month from MedEx of Ahoskie are in place at the three Bertie EMS locations in Aulander, Colerain, and Windsor, and that the vehicles have been certified by the state. A narcotics license for the trucks is also forthcoming.

“We’re in conversation right now with the billing company and hopefully in 30 days we’ll get an update on that so we can start seeing some revenue flowing in from that so we can start giving you some projections from where we stand and what it’s going to take to keep things afloat,” Cooper continued.

Cooper said he hoped to meet with his counter-part, former Washington County EMS director David Clary, to help work on a budget that can be submitted to the board during their annual retreat later this month.

“Everything’s been running as smoothly as possible, I think, with everything that’s happened,” said Cooper. “So I would like to take a minute to say thank you to y’all for allowing and putting your trust in us to push through this.”

Cooper also said a big thank-you should go to Leicester and his crew for the work they’ve done.

When First Med first ceased operations, forcing the emergency service personnel out of work, the county stepped in and hired everyone on staff through the first of July 2014.

Cooper said other than a few minor mechanical breakdowns, once the trucks are out of the shop they would have new lettering graphics.

“We’re gonna write ‘Bertie County’ on the side of these things for the time being and be proud of what we stand for,” Cooper declared.

Following the update, Cooper presented a letter from the Emergency Services Department that would officially cease the State of Emergency once signed by Chairman Perry. Commissioner Ron Wesson made the motion to terminate, seconded by Commissioner John Trent.

As a comic side note, Perry said he had not received one complaint. “And when I don’t get a complaint,” he interjected with a grin, “then things must be going real good.”

“I commend everyone in this room when it comes to EMS and what we did in keeping these assets here in Bertie County,” said Trent. “We moved forward, we moved fast, and we moved hard on making the right decisions to protect the citizens of Bertie County. Plans came together and it worked smoothly.”

County attorney Lloyd Smith presented a purchase agreement from the First Med bankruptcy trustee, Algernon Butler III, for Perry to sign and for the board to approve that confirmed that the bankruptcy trustee is selling to Bertie County three trucks and all the equipment to equip five trucks for a price of $30,000, an immense savings to the county. The agreement, which still has to go before a federal bankruptcy judge, would convey the trucks and equipment to the county once the court approves.  The Bertie board quickly approved and signed the agreement to be returned.

“You saved the people at least $200,000 by doing this,” said Smith.

Leicester gave an updated report on response times and was able to make a comparison for the entire quarter: 11.09 minutes in October, down to 10.93 for November, and 10.08 for December.

Chute times, which are from the time the call comes in to when the trucks roll out, also showed significant improvement: 88.5 seconds in October, 84.05 in November, and fewer than 80 seconds at 79.69 for December.

“Given everything we went through, I’m as proud of these numbers as you can imagine,” said Leicester.

December was the EMS’ busiest month with 273 responses to calls.

“If you compare back to October, we’ve had a full one minute improvement in average response time,” said Leicester. “That takes a tremendous amount of work. The thing that means the most to me, and ultimately to the citizens of Bertie County, is that we responded at 95 percent of all calls in 20 minutes or less in December.

“I offer our gratitude time and time again to you guys for everything you’ve done in stepping up and taking care of us,” he concluded. “They’re coming in everyday and putting in the work day in and day out throughout all the uncertainty and I think this pretty much takes the cake for me.”

“It was a worst-case scenario,” said Commissioner Rick Harrell. “And folks have said this is the furthest thing that they thought would ever happen. We didn’t do this by default, we pulled together and made this happen. We’re going to be better because of this.”

Leicester said this was the data pulled straight from the county’s 9-1-1 center and that nothing was done with the numbers.

“This is a story about how people pulled together and shows that Bertie County is responsible and we worked tirelessly,” said Commissioner Ronald ‘Ron’ Wesson. “We’re still the first county in North Carolina to offer this.”

With the commissioner’s meeting falling one day after the college football national championship game was played, Trent’s closing comment was an appropriate analogy:

“This was a touchdown, guys,” Trent said. “End of story.”