Rescue/EMS seeks funding

Published 9:33 am Thursday, February 18, 2016

GATESVILLE – One of Gates County’s most vital services is in need of additional funds and tax dollars may be the only answer.

At their Jan. 20 meeting, the Gates County Board of Commissioners listened to a presentation from Tom Morgan, Chairman of the Board of Directors that oversee Gates County Rescue & EMS (GCR-EMS).

Prior to laying out a request for more funds from the county, Morgan provided information on the services provided by the non-profit organization and its current state of finances.

He said GCR-EMS currently has one, full-time, paramedic level ambulance stationed at the squad’s main building at Eason’s Crossroads. There is a second unit housed at the Eure Volunteer Fire Department. That unit operates eight hours a day, six days a week.

“The unit at Eure primary responsibility is to provide non-emergency transport service, but is available for emergency level services,” Morgan stated.

A third ambulance, also at Eason’s Crossroads, is staffed weekdays from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. Volunteers are used to answer calls at night.

“Our volunteers have saved the county a great deal of tax money. They staff an ambulance at night and provide back-up when multiple ambulances and manpower are needed at other times,” Morgan stressed.

He also noted how the upgrade of the personnel to paramedic level helps to save lives as they are able to begin immediate care that once had to be delayed until a patient arrived at a medical facility.

As far as using the ambulances to provide non-emergency transport, Morgan said the funds generated by that usage has generated some revenue, which is used to subsidize emergency services.

However, with the age of the GCR-EMS fleet of vehicles in addition to the everyday operational costs, Morgan stressed that the non-emergency transport funds fall short of meeting the overall needs of the organization. The only other revenue streams for GCR-EMS comes from Gates County local government ($25,000 annually) and through donations.

“Our newest ambulance is a 2011 model with over 160,000 miles on it,” Morgan said. “We still have a payment left on that vehicle: $36,000 due in early 2017. We spend at least $20,000 a year on medical equipment and supplies. We’ve been able to meet our operating costs, but cannot invest in another vehicle without additional revenue.

“One of our ambulances is so old and requires so much maintenance that the board, to save money, has decided to mount it on a new chassis for $81,000. We’ll pay for that through borrowed money from an established trust fund,” he added.

Morgan said the cost of a new ambulance is in the $200,000 range.

“Our fleet of ambulances are in use and at a combined rate of 160,000 miles per year, we need to replace nearly one each year,” he said. “The cardiac monitors in our ambulances are old technology and need to be upgraded. We also need to increase the pay and benefits of our EMTs/paramedics to be competitive and retain good employees. Right now we are a training ground for new EMT personnel, who leave in search of better pay and benefits in neighboring counties.”

He thanked the commissioners for working to steer Medicare funds to the GCR-EMS. However, those initial payments are not expected to being until July 2017, and the first one is expected to be in the $75,000 range.

Morgan stressed that EMT services rarely pay for themselves. He cited the revenue gained through providing medical services comprises 27 percent of the overall EMT budget in Currituck County; 55 percent in Perquimans; 76 percent in Chowan; and 69 percent in Pasquotank. That number in Gates is 93 percent.

“Bertie has opened their own service and they’re funding about 40 percent through revenue. It’s a $2.5 million annual operation, at the paramedic level, to operate four ambulances with the necessary personnel,” Morgan said.

“We answer more than three times the number of calls that Camden County does, and they have an operating budget of over $300,000 per ambulance for full-time service. We need to consider a second, full-time ambulance to help meet our call volume,” but we have no additional revenue sources to tap right now, he added.

Morgan said he and the Board of Directors have put pen to paper and come up with what is needed in additional funds to keep GCR-EMS operational: $76,800 per year to keep the ambulance fleet reliable; $33,900 per year for medical equipment on the ambulances; $17,475 per year to pay finance charges on the equipment purchased, and $200,000 per year for employee benefits and salaries.

That totals $328,554 plus the current $25,000 received from the county.

“We realize this is a large increase that will be difficult to meet in one year, but we feel we need to move forward to meet these needs. Without additional funds Gates County Rescue and EMS may not have the resources to meet its financial obligations beyond Feb. 17,” Morgan stressed.

It is the recommendation of the Board of Directors to contract emergency medical services to Gates County in the coming year – July of 2016 through June of 2017 – at $353,554 for the services now delivered. He noted that price includes one ambulance, staffed 24 hours a day, plus the services of other ambulances as needed through the volunteers.

During discussion among the commissioners, one idea surfaced regarding a supplemental EMS fee, much like a tax now assessed for fire districts in the county.

“Chowan County has such a fee,” said board chair Linda Hofler.

Commissioner Henry Jordan mentioned that Gates County currently does not permit private firms to operate a non-emergency transport business. He noted that if those private firms were permitted to operate, wouldn’t that lower the costs of GCR-EMS.

“We did put any new ambulances or personnel in place to handle non-emergency transport,” answered Billy Winn, the county’s Emergency Management Director. “The ambulances have answered emergency calls through the history of our rescue squad since its founding in 1964. We’ve added to our fleet of ambulances over the years to meet the need of the volume of calls. There was no cost incurred to buy a new ambulance to only fill the need for non-emergency transport.”

Jordan asked to see the EMS/Rescue finances, to which Winn said those “books were open” for anyone to see.

Winn added it was typical statewide to see rescue/EMT services as part of a county’s operating budget.

Commissioner Billy Felton applauded the work of Gates County Rescue & EMS, especially for their efforts to take their services to the paramedic level.

“A big plus is that most of the EMT’s and paramedics are county residents,” Felton stressed. “Unlike what we agreed to last year to the tune of $4 million (county funding for a wastewater project at a privately owned commercial development), Gates County Rescue and EMS has the potential to service all of Gates County. I thank you and I praise the work that you do.”

Commissioner Ray Freeman said Gates County Rescue and EMS offered a high level of medical care, which was extremely important within a county where more than one-third of its population is classified as senior citizens.

GCR-EMS Chief Stormy Butts said the funds generated by non-emergency transport are rolled into the emergency transport side of the organization.

“Is non-emergency profitable, yes,” he said. “But I don’t look at the bottom line at that profit as we use that money to operate our entire organization. At year’s end we would just like to break even.”

Several audience members spoke up and said had it not been for GCR-EMS, they or a loved one would not be alive today. They supported a small, supplemental tax to support the organization.

Jordan suggested that the board needs more time to study the organization’s finances and their requests for additional county funds. He also remarked that the county manager needs to study how to establish a Rescue/EMS supplemental tax, if the board leans in that direction to account for the present and future needs of the organization.

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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