Harrison medical services pact approved

CADIZ – After two weeks of deliberation by the Harrison County commissioners, chairman Dale Norris asked the board to approve a one-year contract with Harrison Community Hospital for back up emergency medical services and Smith Ambulance’s bid to provide transport from the county line at their meeting Wednesday.

Norris stated that the only competing bid from Emergency Medical Transport was for a four-year period and in addition, due to the contract’s specifications for a specific territory designated for primary coverage, it did not meet the specifications set forth by the county, which subsequently disqualified the proposal.

“We signed a contract prior to this proposal with the volunteers and could not violate that agreement,” Norris explained. “The volunteers are working to fill those areas and we are sticking to our decision to continue to support them in those efforts.”

Commissioners Norris and Bill Host both voted to approve the contract with Don Bethel abstaining, citing his position on the hospital advisory board as a conflict of interest.

“I want to commend everyone involved and thank all of the EMS services for their bids,” Norris said following the vote. “It has been a long process to get to this point, and it is going to be another long process to find a long term solution.”

“I feel that my fellow commissioners have reaffirmed their commitment to make sure the volunteers have ample opportunity to reestablish the service they have provided for these many past decades,” Bethel complimented. “I feel it was a necessary step for the safety of our community to approve this contract with the hospital which will provide EMS to our citizens while we allow the volunteers time to rebuild.”

“It is only a one-year contract and after a year, we will re-evaluate this,” Bethel added. “Right now I feel we are getting adequate EMS coverage and the commissioners have made a decision to continue that coverage at no additional cost to the tax payers.”

“I feel that there is no better way to spend a portion of the oil and gas monies the county is receiving than to ensure the safety of citizens,” Bethel concluded.

Norris explained that the commissioners had discussed bringing in both companies to negotiate changes to their proposals. “We originally thought we had the option for flexibility, however, after consulting county prosecutor Michael Washington, he said that we had to make our decision on the bids as submitted.”

“We had met with all the EMS providers prior to the bid deadline and discussed the possibility of submitting multiple bids which we could review,” Norris added. “Under the circumstances, we had to act on the proposals we received and within a restricted time frame. While we are under no obligation to provide EMS service to the community, in the interest of public safety, we felt that this move was the most expedient.”

Norris responded to a question from Sheriff Ron Myers stating that for the time being 911 dispatch would still transfer calls to the hospital rather than direct dispatch EMS.

“We are pleased we could come to a solution that we feel is in the best interest of the people of the county,” Clifford K. Harmon, chief executive officer of Harrison Community Hospital in Cadiz, stated. “We will continue to work with the county and committed to continued cooperation with the volunteers.”

“We approached the commissioners in May of 2013 and indicated to them that we could not continue providing EMS service because we had lost $250,000 per year,” Harmon added following the meeting. “We did not want to pull the plug without having some discussions with the county because we handle about 70 percent of the calls in the county.”

“We had continued to try and work out where we could continue the service without incurring the loss,” Harmon explained. “This is the measure for the next year as we evaluate how we are going to move forward.”

Emergency Medical Transport also attended the meeting and expressed disappointment in the board’s decision.

“Frankly, we were a little surprised by their response, the information we received indicated that the county reserved the right to adjust the bids,” Kenneth J. Joseph EMTP, Chief Executive Officer for EMT Ambulance, Inc. stated after the meeting. “When we initially approached the commissioners they were saying, “Where have you been the past four years?” and I replied ‘Just down the road’.”

“We wanted a defined area, which really there is not any volunteer activity in, which is the main center of the community where the population focus is for a specific reason,” Joseph explained. “In doing so, we would know which calls were ours, immediately reducing response time, and also we could more efficiently assist the volunteers outside of the area when necessary, and I add this was all bid with no tax money from the county.”

“The bid they accepted will subsidize the hospital $22,000 a month,” Joseph continued. “We felt our proposal was something which could be sustainable into the future if the volunteers were not able to reestablish EMS service after the one year period expired.”

“We also felt that with our presence, it would offer the volunteers a longer period to rebuild,” Joseph concluded. “I am sure we could have negotiated something for a shorter period if that option were available.”

The new contract with HCH EMS is effective immediately.

According to commissioner Bethel, EMT submitted a proposal after the meeting to provide back up for the hospital EMS from their Cadiz location – in the event that the HCH could not respond, they would provide service at the same scale submitted by the hospital.

Palmer may be reached at mpalmer@timesleaderonline.com.