Thursday, January 31, 2008
County scrambles for emergency service
By SUE WATSON
Emergystat, an ambulance provider for 23 counties in Mississippi and for six other states, notified local and state authorities around 4 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 23, that their insurance would run out by midnight and no service would be available.
The 11th-hour revelation left Mississippi Emergency Management officials and counties scrambling for ambulance service providers overnight, a scramble that continued locally Thursday.
The Marshall County Board of Supervisors called a special meeting at 10 a.m. to deal with the situation. Supervisors were briefed by county administrator Larry Hall, 911 coordinator Jimmye Dale Green, and Hugh Hollowell, emergency management coordinator for the county.
Brien Sharp, president of Transcare Ambulance Service in Southhaven, also briefed the board on how his company helped out in other counties and with Emergystat to provide continuity of service.
After discussions, the board of supervisors passed a motion to declare a local state of emergency.
Sharp said Emergystat had agreed to provide VIN numbers to his company which will pick up the liability insurance on all ambulances his company assumes in order to get service back up quickly. He would keep the former Emergystat employees on the job, he said.
Supervisors heard the particulars.
Hall, Green and Sharp said they had been contacted by someone with Emergystat at 4 p.m. Wednesday giving notice the company would cease operating at midnight when its liability insurance ran out. They added other things that they heard or knew about Emergystat’s financial situation leading up to the cessation of service.
“That left us with not a warm feeling at all,” Green said. “Fortunately, we had a quiet night, but it could have gone the other way. We’re not in a good position at this point.”
Hall said his first thought after talking with someone from Emergystat was to call Dr. Williams (Alliance HealthCare System) and ask if they would cover the county’s emergency calls overnight.
Alliance did step up to the plate, Green said, and asked to talk to supervisors at 1 p.m. Thursday.
The board then discussed getting a list of all equipment it owns that Emergystat was using, including any vehicles.
Then chancery clerk Chuck Thomas reported that the $13,125 a month the county pays Emergystat under a contractual agreement was paid up through December 2007.
Sharp said Transcare Ambulance Service had offered to help other counties while the dust settles on the Emergystat meltdown.
“We covered six counties Wednesday night to help out at no request for money,” he said. “We want consideration (should the contract be rebid) since we are out of Southaven.”
Transcare leased Emergystat’s vehicles overnight and took care of short term insurance coverage while the company learned how long it will cover the gap in service left by Emergystat, he said.
After speaking with the CEO of Emergystat and officials at the state health department, Sharp said his company assumed Emergystat’s personnel and equipment in the counties they were called to help.
Supervisors then discussed whether the short notice of termination given by Emergystat constituted a breach of contract and how to proceed.
Hollowell then asked the board for a declaration of a state of emergency.
Board attorney Kent Smith said the county needed to get in touch with Emergystat to discuss a transition so the county could be released from its obligations in their contract and be set free to make other arrangements.
Hall emphasized the urgency of establishing with a new provider, saying emergency medical personnel who worked with Emergystat needed to know if work would be available before they took off for new jobs. They have to have jobs and can get them, he said.
Green then advised the board that Emergystat owns the Federal Communications Commission license to the radio frequency the county uses to handle emergency service calls and also some signal repeaters.
Hollowell said Marshall County’s Emergency Management frequency could be used on a temporary basis and Emergystat’s frequency could be used with permission.
Thomas said he was concerned what could happen if the county switched providers and then Emergystat got insurance and wanted to came back on line.
Supervisor Eddie Dixon said the citizens have to be protected.
Hollowell reminded them of the big picture - the whole state was affected, not just Marshall County.
Sharp stated that Emergystat had worked closely with his company and with state officials to help other providers assume insurance and keep ambulances coverage.
The session resumed at 1 p.m. Thursday for Alliance HealthCare System representatives to make a proposal, if they wished, to provide ambulance service, but Alliance sent no representative before the board.
The board then put in a call to Alliance, and a representative asked that Larry Hall and a designated representative come to the hospital to discuss the matter.
Afterward the board voted unanimously to terminate its contract with Emergystat and to authorize its attorney to negotiate a contract with Transcare.
Negotiations would include the use of the same vehicles and personnel that Emergystat had stationed in the county. Transcare would be offered the same contract with the board to provide the same level of service under the old contract with Emergystat and for the same price. The county would agree to provide the same housing for the vehicles and personnel in Holly Springs and the Byhalia Substation and to pay Transcare the same dollar it was paying Emergystat - $13,125 per month.
The board passed a motion to pay Alliance immediately for coverage it provided while the county made while it negotiated with Transcare.
The board would enter the agreement with Transcare until September 30 and rebid the ambulance service contract in July this year in time to go into the 2008-09 fiscal year budget beginning October 1.
The board said it did not want to rebid the contract until then because a rebid in the current year’s budget could well result in an increased cost for service during this budget year, which the board said was already a tight one.
Green said Friday that Transcare took over coverage Thursday afternoon with two ambulances stationed in the county as usual. Alliance Healthcare System also has two ambulances, he said, which it uses to transfer patients. Alliance is also called when there are mass injuries or casualties - such as in vehicle accidents, he said.
He added that Emergystat ambulances from Panola County responded to Marshall County when all units were out on runs.
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