To the Citizens of Newton County:
I have received many inquiries and concerns from citizens about the transition of EMS services in our County during the last three weeks. As Chairman of the Newton County Board of Commissioners, it is my responsibility to listen to the citizens’ concerns while balancing the financial pressures facing our community. It is my goal to maintain an office that respects our taxpayers and at the same time ensures that the community’s needs are met with superior service. I believe we need to do that with as much communication and transparency as possible. So I want to clear up a lot of misinformation spreading throughout our community regarding the EMS Service.
Here is a breakdown of how we got to where we are with the County’s EMS services.
- Early this year, upon my taking office, I began looking at the budget for various ways to improve service in our county by giving a pay increase to your hard-working sheriff’s deputies, firefighters and county employees. Feeling the subsidy with the hospital was an area where the county could reduce costs without reducing service, I met with a Piedmont Hospital representative to discuss the EMS services provided.
- The reason this was a viable area to trim cost was that the county paid Piedmont Newton Hospital $1,015,908 for EMS service for Fiscal Year 2017. This amount far exceeded what was being paid by neighboring counties. I immediately began looking at options for EMS services, including meeting with National EMS. In May 2017, Piedmont Newton Hospital requested an increase to approximately $1.6 million for Fiscal Year 2018. The new amount was approximately $700,000 more than the county paid to the hospital the previous fiscal year.
- After receiving Piedmont Newton’s budget request and recognizing the availability of more fiscally responsible and equally sufficient EMS service, it was apparent to me that the county had to consider terminating its EMS partnership with Piedmont Newton. The board of commissioners shared this sentiment.
- On June 8, the county informed Piedmont of the decision to discontinue providing funding to Piedmont Newton Hospital for EMS services. Piedmont Newton then told the county it would surrender the license to operate EMS services.
- Newton County asked Piedmont Hospital to provide a letter of support to the state to assist the county in pursuing its own EMS license since only one entity can hold a license in a zone to operate EMS services. The hospital refused this request.
- Piedmont Newton proposed to us two separate transition periods as they began working to shut down its EMS operations.
- Option one for transition would begin on July 1 and end on Aug. 12. During this time period, Piedmont Newton proposed a daily operations rate of $2,251 to be paid by the county per day.
- Option two for transition would begin on July 1 and end on Sept. 12. During this time period, Piedmont Newton proposed a daily operations rate of $2,229 to be paid by the county per day.
- Following the June 8 conference call with Piedmont, the county began exploring options to ensure continuing ambulance service following the transition period with Piedmont Newton. The options included working with the state to “open the zone” or working to acquire an ambulance license and hiring a vendor to provide ambulance service. Admittedly, my main focus in initially addressing EMS services was to save the county the expense of the funding that Piedmont Hospital was requesting.
- After the board of commissioners’ vote on June 13 to allow the state to hold the EMS licensure, citizens and EMS professionals expressed their concerns to me, personally, and to the board of commissioners. These concerns did not go unnoticed. A work session was called that included the appearance of EMS personnel and EJ Dailey, the region 3 EMS director. It is at this work session that the county realized the benefit and importance of holding the EMS license.
- The board of commissioners applied for the EMS license and the state scheduled a region 3 meeting for June 29 regarding the zone opening. The county worked with Grady EMS to put in place a plan for an excellent EMS service provision at a cost of $1,000 per day. This cost included the promise to retain Piedmont Newton employees and provide the county with a comprehensive plan to measure service performance and delivery. Grady worked diligently, as did the county to ensure that all documentation of the agreement was put in place prior to the State’s meeting scheduled for June 29.
- On June 27 Piedmont Newton notified the county that it would not surrender the EMS license held in the zone. They further advised that it would be continuing EMS service with or without the county’s support in the form of funding.
- Due to Piedmont Newton’s decision to retain the license and continue offering EMS service, the State cancelled the County’s June 29 meeting.
After publicly announcing that it would not seek funding from the county to operate the EMS services, Piedmont Newton has now approached the county regarding a “meaningful financial partnership” requesting county funding. This request was made while Piedmont Newton was also negotiating with National EMS to take over its ambulance operations in October.
I wanted to go through the actions the board of commissioners has taken in detail so you know the work that has gone into finding the best EMS solution for Newton County and you know that we are committed to seeing the best services for the most prudent cost implemented and maintained.
Piedmont Newton has provided EMS services to the county for the past two years. Newton Medical provided EMS services for the preceding years. This service was provided with significant funding from the county. It is the duty of the chairman and the board of commissioners to always make decisions with the county’s best interest in mind. I take this duty very seriously and I believe that the board of commissioners share in this contention. To that end, all EMS service providers, including Piedmont Newton, who are willing to provide excellent EMS service to our community at a cost that is respectful of our taxpayer’s investment in our community are welcome.
Marcello Banes, Chairman
Newton County Board of Commissioners