Bertie EMS seeking transport expansion

Published 9:51 am Thursday, August 18, 2016

WINDSOR – At a special meeting here Aug. 9, the Bertie County Commissioners heard a request from county Emergency Services Director Mitch Cooper to increase the ambulance fleet of his department. Not just Paramedic ambulances, but the ones for non-emergency transport (NETs).

The county has applied for a U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development grant to aid in the funding. The USDA-RD administers 43 different programs with over half of the $7.9 billion going into the housing program. The remainder go into clean water, sewer, and telemedicine. They also make investments in community facilities, businesses and infrastructure that have empowered rural America to continue leading the way; strengthening America’s economy, small towns and rural communities.

North Carolina is divided into six R-D districts— District Six in Kinston serves Bertie County.

At the Commissioners’ July 14 meeting, Kim Miller, Area Specialist from USDA, briefed the group on various loan options for financing ambulance replacements. According to Cooper, the Commissioners learned four ambulances were being recommended for replacement based on maintenance costs, mileage, and reliability. Miller was requested to bring specific recommendations at a later board meeting and county Finance Officer William Roberson would work with her, Cooper, and County Manager Scott Sauer on a financing package.

Sauer reported at the Aug. 8 meeting that as of midnight, Aug. 7, Bertie County Non-Emergency Transport had completed a total of 82 transports: a record number for so early into the month of August.

“Our volume on the non-emergency side has really picked up,” Sauer informed the board. “We think we’re on a track to hit between 300-to-350 this month.”

Sauer stated that so far they were working on trying to bring in a proposal from within the county’s existing budget for the financing of two additional transport ambulances.

“Some that are less expensive than the Emergency units so that we can keep pace with the volume of transports,” he added. “We’ve got four trucks on the road every day for the non-emergency transports, and we’ve had to turn calls away.”

He stated that the NET Division was growing at an expeditious rate, and that additional ambulances and equipment are desperately needed to meet the demand.

Commissioner Tammy Lee asked about Priority Medical, to which Cooper cited that particular company was one of the private NETs that had ceased operations. Other reasons for the influx included the addition of several dialysis patients, nursing homes, and consistent hospital transfers.

“We started doing just a couple of patients out of these nursing homes,” Cooper explained, “now they call us for everything. Sunday we did four calls for discharges from the hospital (Vidant Bertie).”

Cooper said four ambulances are currently assigned to the NETs, but that now the spare truck is sometimes being used when the call volume is particularly high.

“We wanted to alert you to this information and reserve the opportunity to come back with additional suggestions either in August (22nd), or in September,” Sauer added. “We’re keeping folks real busy.”

He mentioned that is becoming more and more common for the entire fleet of EMS vehicles being on the roads all day, every day.

“If you want a quick rundown,” said Cooper, “February we did 211 (transports); March we did 219; April, 240.”

The EMS director said a patient death in the spring accounted for a drop in transport numbers to 205, and later a drop to 200; this, despite the death.

“Now we’ve picked up two additional patients to push it to 226 in July, and we’re on target to go over 300 this month,” Cooper stated. “So even with the loss of a patient, (EMS-NET director Stephanie Freeman) is still pulling in business from everywhere she can grab it. She’s worked really hard to make sure it’s growing at the rate it’s growing.”

Commissioner Stewart White said that averaged out to about 225 (NET transports) a month.

“My target is 450, and the billing company’s is 400,” Cooper said. “They say 400 equals a very profitable company and if we can stay above that it would considerably help the Emergency side. We’re proud to be able to offer this in ‘little ol’ Bertie’ the same as some of these big counties are doing.”

Commissioner Ernestine Byrd Bazemore asked how many calls had been turned down and Cooper said, realistically, about one a week.

Commissioner Ronald “Ron” Wesson noted that other counties are following Bertie’s model of Paramedics on every emergency call, and the ownership of their own non-emergency fleet instead of franchising. He warned this could put great demands on Bertie EMS’ manpower.

“We’ve got to insure that we keep the manpower that we need,” he warned.

Cooper praised the Bertie High School EMS Cadet program for assisting in this.

“If we can get them in early, send them to school, and they’re from Bertie County, then the more likely they are to stay with us,” Cooper acknowledged.

Sauer noted that this growth makes the work of Kim Miller at USDA Rural Development even more crucial as the age and wear and tear on the NET and EMS vehicles are beginning to take a toll on the ability to respond.

“My whole case today: we need some equipment,” Cooper implored. “I got trucks with 200,000-plus miles on them.”

The Board discussed available funding in the EMS budget to cover the cost of additional ambulance vehicles and equipment for Non-Emergency Transport.

Cooper responded that he had enough funds in his budget now to cover two more ambulance vehicles and the needed equipment.

“Instead of a new QRV (Quick Response Vehicle), a QRV upgrade would pay for two transport ambulances,” Cooper reasoned. “The money’s there, it’s just getting it approved.”

He also stated that he’d like to push forward with the purchasing process for Non-Emergency Transport.

Sauer pledged that the necessary paperwork and other details would be gathered for the Commissioners to review at their next meeting before any final decisions would be made.