BREAKING NEWS: Ambulance district board tells Fiscal Court ambulance services will be reduced
The Pendleton County Ambulance Taxing District Board represented by Dale Beighle and Phillip Hart, presented a letter signed by Beighle, Gina Adams and Terry Logan, that stated, "It is obvious we will not be able to continue with the current ambulance service based on the current revenues. Without additional revenue, we will not be able to continue to make two ambulances available on a 24 hour basis..
The letter indicated the board came to this decision as they prepared their 2019-20 budget which starts July 1, 2019. The magistrates on Fiscal Court are also in the midst of preparing the 2019-20 fiscal year Pendleton County budget. The budget they received later in the meeting and had a first reading called for $168,000 out of LGEA funds to be used for funding the ambulance district. It is the same amount the court provided to the ambulance district in 2018-19.
The letter concluded "As a result, we will be forced to take one ambulance out of service at selected times during the new fiscal year."
Falmouth Outlook reached out to Director Phillip Hart about what times and days it would be out of service but by the time the meeting concluded that information had not been received.
Charles O'Neal had audited the ambulance district and felt it was well-ran but made several recommendations. The audit presented at a fiscal court meeting at the beginning of April is detailed in the Falmouth Outlook story located at https://www.falmouthoutlook.com/local-news/fiscal-court-has-tough-funding-decision-ambulance-district
Beighle said, "It is obvious from the meeting when the audit was presented that there will not be a merger. Lives are saved by ALS service. I'm sure you can recall one person that life has been saved. Sometime in the future one person will lose their life because there is not an ambulance available."
ALS means Advance Life Support and BLS means Basic life Support. A BLS unit will have two Emergency medical Technicians. On the other hand, an ALS unit will have a paramedic apart from the Emergency medical Technician. A BLS provider cannot use needles or other devices that makes cuts in the skin. A paramedic can administer medicine that might be vital in the moments that life saving measures are important.
District 3 Magistrate Darrin Gregg indicated that he had received feedback on these issues from constituents not only in his district but also out of it. "No one wants their taxes raised but we are all getting older. The 50+ year-olds that I have talked to want ALS. We are not spring chickens anymore."
Gregg continued with a personal story in which the ambulance personnel recently treated his granddaughter. Air care was used and EMT Mark Hart took the opportunity to show Gregg the difference of having ALS and BLS as it related to treating patients.
"Without paramedics, we cannot do anything. God gave us smarts to save lives. I want paramedics. I don't want anyone to die for lack of ability to save them," he said.
District 4 Magistrate Rick Mineer added, "No one here disagrees with Darrin. It is all down to the funds. We are robbing Peter to pay Paul as it is."
He pointed out that the LGEA funds are being used for the $168,000 given to the ambulance district in the 2019-20 budget. LGEA funds are raised from mineral severance from the two mines in Pendleton County are an "unrealiable source of revenue and could end tomorrow."
Phillip Hart commented, "You have to set priorities and what is the price of someone's life?"
Mineer answered, "There is no price on someone's life."
All agreed that this is a problem throughout the state. The state/federal system does not reimburse ambulance districts through Medicaid and Medicare at a rate that fully pays for the runs made and charged. Hart indicated that it barely covers the cost of gas and labor on the call.
He posed the question that "there is a decision to be made on raising taxes to fund two ALS ambulances 24/7."
Mineer lamented that the state has not step in and addressed the lack of funding for ambulance districts. The state limits the ambulance district to a 10 cents per $100 and the Pendleton County district is at that max.
The court was in agreement as they look at the 2019-20 budget that unless they trim some things, taxes are going to have to go up.
Judge Executive David Fields gave an example that the Dispatch Center was supplemented partially on revenue from a $2.50 charge on each landline. When it started, it produced revenue of $14,000 but it is now down to $4,000.
Beighle challenged that if you were able to have the taxpayers vote on whether they would pay higher taxes for ambulance services, they would vote for ALS ambulance service.
"You can drive over roads that might not be fully paved but you cannot do without ambulance services in a lifesaving moment," he said.
The court held a first reading of the budget later in the evening. The budget will be sent to Department of Local Government for approval then published for the public to study. At that point, it would be brought back to the court for approval.
The staff of Falmouth Outlook will continue to investigate and follow up on this story and have a complete coverage of it in the Tuesday, May 21 edition. Full coverage of all items discussed in the meeting will also be in the Tuesday, May 21 edition.