The ongoing confusion about how and by whom the county’s emergency medical service (EMS or ambulance service) will be provided is a serious public issue. Unfortunately, Piedmont Hospital officials and the Newton Hospital Authority have added to citizen’s concerns by sending mixed signals to the public, the county and to their EMS staff about whether and how they intend to provide EMS in the future.
On June 12, Piedmont Newton notified their EMS employees that they were going to stop the EMS operation and terminate the staff because the board of commissioners (BOC) had decided not to provide public funds for FY 2018. Hospital officials had requested a 70 percent increase from approximately $1 million to $1.7 million per year! This large request resulted in the county officially notifying the hospital authority on June 14 that they would no longer contract with them to provide EMS. (Subsidies are common if EMS providers cannot collect enough payments from its customers.)
After a few missteps, the BOC hastily developed a transition plan whereby Piedmont Newton would be offered $1,500 per day to provide EMS until July 31. On June 23, the county announced that they would obtain a State EMS license and subcontract with Grady EMS to temporarily provide the service after July 31. Grady would operate the EMS service for six months until the county selected a permanent provider by competitive bidding.
Grady agreed to provide the EMS service for a county subsidy of $1,000 per day compared to Piedmont Newton which received a subsidy of $2,783 per day in fiscal year 2017 and wanted $4,627 per day for 2018. The Grady agreement would have been quite a savings for taxpayers and likely a service improvement as well.
Surprisingly, on June 27 Piedmont Newton reversed itself and announced its intention to retain the license and continue to operate EMS, apparently without county subsidy. That has caused citizens to ask why one day the hospital needed $1.7 million from the county and two weeks later it does not?
What is going on behind the scenes of this drama? According to documents obtained via a Georgia Open Records Act Request, the county and hospital officials are negotiating now for the hospital to provide EMS during a transition period of 30-90 days. After that, the hospital plans to contract with National EMS for county wide service. Money is obviously an issue. Piedmont Newton wants a significant subsidy for the transition period and likely for the future too. The county has filed an official open records request for financial data that justifies the amount of public funds spent on EMS. So far the hospital authority has refused to provide those records despite legal requirements to do so. Piedmont Newton and the hospital authority must be transparent in how they have used public funds. Without complete transparency, the BOC should not provide any taxpayer funds to them in the future.
Larry McSwain and Barbara Morgan