COVINGTON, Ga. - When Piedmont Newton Hospital notified the State of Georgia and Newton County this week of its intention to retain its license to provide Emergency Medical Services (EMS) in the county, it brought three weeks of questions about who would be caring for and transporting sick and injured Newton County citizens full circle.
On June 13, after the Newton County Board of Commissioners (BOC) reportedly declined to fund Piedmont Newton’s request for a $1.7 million subsidy for ambulance service, and the hospital reportedly made known its intention to surrender its EMS license and no longer provide service. The BOC, during a special called meeting, by a 3-1 vote elected not to pursue its own ambulance license, opting instead to let the state pick a provider.
One week later, at its regular meeting June 20, citing concerns about a loss of local control over the selection process and public concerns about letting the state choose a provider, commissioners voted unanimously to reverse their vote, instructing County Attorney Megan Martin to make application for the license to the state no later than June 22.
The BOC also tasked County Manager Lloyd Kerr, Fire Chief Michael Conner and 911 Center Director Mike Smith with finding a short term mutual aid ambulance provider to provide service while the county established an EMS Advisory Committee and worked on a permanent provider.
On Tuesday, Piedmont Newton Hospital notified Newton County and the State of Georgia of its intention to retain its license to provide ambulance service in the county.
According to a statement from hospital spokesperson Sydney D. Walker, the hospital notified both the county and the state June 27 of the decision.
She said “Piedmont Newton believes the decision is in the best interest of the citizens of Newton County.”
Piedmont Newton explored giving up EMS license
Piedmont Newton Hospital contacted Region 3 EMS Director EJ Dailey earlier this month to inquire about the process for giving up its EMS license.
The Covington News, through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, obtained a series of emails between Piedmont Newton Hospital and the State of Georgia regarding the license and Piedmont Newton’s eventual decision to retain it.
In a June 14 email to Dailey, William Love, executive director of patient services at the hospital, asked for guidance on what steps would be necessary to surrender the license.
“Mr. Weadick, CEO Piedmont Newton Hospital asked that I reach out to you regarding the process for notifying the State/EMS Council of our intent to surrender our EMS license. I am sure you are well aware of Newton County’s decision to support our current EMS operation through July 31,” he wrote, according to the email.
“Can you please provide guidance on what steps we need to take with regards to notification of our intent to cease operations effect midnight on July 31?”
On June 23, Earnest Doss, deputy director of the Georgia Office of EMS and Trauma, responded to Love’s inquiry with regards to the process for surrendering the license.
“To surrender the ambulance service license, an officer of Piedmont Newton Hospital, Inc. (“PNH”) would need to notify the department in writing that PNH is surrendering its ambulance service license and the effective date of said action,” he wrote, according to the email.
Doss told Piedmont Newton for convenience, a copy of the notice would be accepted via email, but the original would be needed for the license files.
In a June 23 press release, Newton County Public Information Officer Bryan Fazio announced the county had reached an agreement with Grady EMS to provide coverage for the county starting Aug. 1 at a cost of $1,000 a day. The story was reported in The Covington News Sunday, June 25.
Monday morning, Love wrote Dailey requesting a phone conversation about the status of Piedmont Newton’s license and Newton County’s decision to contract with Grady EMS to provide ambulance service in the county starting Aug. 1.
“We were very surprised to see on the front page of the local paper that Grady EMS is going to be assuming EMS coverage in our zone effective Aug. 1,” he wrote, according to the email.
He continued, “Needless to say the communication from the county has been limited at best.
“No one has inquired as to our status with our EMS license. Piedmont has not yet made a final decision as to whether or not we will be surrendering it. The Newton Counties actions last week as part of their reevaluation caused Piedmont to reconsider its position as well.”
Friday, Fazio said in statement to The News, “We have been incommunications with Piedmont Newton throughout the month of June.
“When we were told Piedmont Newton was not going to pursue the EMS license we proceeded on a course to ensure the best EMS service possible for the citizens of Newton County.”
In a June 26 letter to Dailey, Weadick affirmed the hospital’s decision to retain the license.
“This letter shall serve to memorialize our intention to continue our ownership and management of the Piedmont Newton Hospital EMS license,” he wrote, according to the email.
“Recent reports that Piedmont Newton Hospital f/k/a (formerly known as) Newton Medical Center (“Piedmont”) has surrendered or released its license, or would surrender or release the license after July 31, 2017, are not accurate.
“Although Piedmont had made a previous inquiry about the process to follow should it make a determination to discontinue providing the service and after completing its analysis, Piedmont feels that it is in the best interest of Newton County’s citizens for Piedmont to continue providing the EMS service. Piedmont will continue to provide EMS service, either through its own capacity, or through a management arrangement with a local provider.”
The News emailed questions to Walker concerning the hospital’s position change and its decision-making process, including who made the decision, where it was made and who, if not Piedmont Newton EMS, would provide the service.
Walker responded, “This was a collective Piedmont decision. I can’t respond to any of your other questions at this time, however, I will make note of them and will work on responses once our plan has been finalized. Like I said, Piedmont Newton’s plan is still being developed.”
Walker was also asked about the length of time the hospital plans to continue to provide the service.
“As for your question regarding a length of service, that date/information is still in discussion. I cannot provide any additional details at this time as Piedmont Newton’s plans are still in development,” she said.
District 1 Commissioner Stan Edwards saidthe hospital said its decision to retain its license was not contingent on any subsidy from the county.
Commissioners reached a consensus on the county’s FY 2018 budget at a work session Monday night that included an approximately $450,000 set aside for EMS service if needed. Edwards said the fate of those funds has not been determined.
BOC Chairman Marcello Banes issued a statement in a press release provided by Fazio:
“We thank Grady for working with us to offer a quality and affordable ambulance service to Newton County residents. Quality safety and services for our citizens is what is most important to us and we are glad Grady was willing to step up to the plate when needed. And we are glad that residents will still receive that service under Piedmont Newton’s renewed interest in EMS services.”
Fazio also said in the release “Any funding of an EMS provider was due to come from the county’s contingency fun. That fund, which is given a new balance each fiscal year, is designated for expenditures that are not anticipated during the budget process.”
The BOC will hold a series of public hearings on the Fiscal Year 2018 Budget on July 18 at 11 a.m. and 6 p.m. and July 25 at 6 p.m. in the Newton County Historic Courthouse.