Ambulance board hires consultant

Consultant to investigate sharing service with Henry County

By Andy Hallman, Ledger news editor

The Jefferson County Ambulance Board has voted to hire a consultant to explore new options for an ambulance service.

The board hired Emergency Services Consulting International of Oregon. The company will study the ambulance service in the county and the options for sharing the service with nearby entities.

The board has three members, each one representing a different entity. Jefferson County Supervisor Lee Dimmitt represents the county; Fairfield City Councilor Paul Gandy represents the city; and Jefferson County Health Center board member Julie Greeson represents the health center.

Gandy said the board has been meeting with the principal stakeholders in emergency medical services such as local law enforcement, fire departments, public health officials and health center staff.

After many months of discussion, the three board members unanimously agreed at its Sept. 25 meeting it was time to investigate changing the ambulance service. The board’s contract with current ambulance provider, Midwest Ambulance, expires in about two years, at the end of September 2020. Dimmitt said he hopes the board will switch from privately provided ambulance service to a public service at that time.

“My personal thoughts are that we’ve had 47 years of private ambulance service with varying degrees of success,” he said. “My feeling, and the board’s feeling, is that we need more control over our emergency services.”

The main alternative to a privately-run ambulance service the board is exploring involves sharing the service with Henry County. Gandy said the Henry County Health Center approached the ambulance board about creating an ambulance service with them.

“They want to meet our twin goals of quality and sustainability for both counties,” Gandy said. “By combining our regions, we could reduce administrative costs while increasing the quality of service.”

The Henry County Health Center runs an ambulance service. However, Dimmitt said that it doesn’t want to run the service anymore because it loses money in Medicare reimbursements. Last year, the health center lost about $400,000 on insufficient Medicare reimbursements for ambulance services.

“The [Henry County Health Center] would retain those reimbursements if it separated from its ambulance service,” Dimmitt said. “That’s also the reason the Jefferson County Health Center doesn’t want to [run an ambulance].”

Dimmitt described the Henry County Health Center’s emergency medical service as “robust” and “well run.”

Gandy said the board was “by no means kicking Midwest Ambulance to the curb.”

“But we need to look at the best options we can take to have a sustainable ambulance,” Gandy said. “It comes down to speed. When time passes, people die. I think this idea of regionalizing makes sense, given what rural counties are facing. This is a prudent and sustainable way to move forward to make sure we have a quality ambulance service in Jefferson County.”

What would regionalizing ambulance service with Henry County look like? The consultant should provide details on what such an arrangement would entail, but Dimmitt imagines that there would be ambulances housed in both Fairfield and Mt. Pleasant. He said the two counties could cut costs by sharing administrative services.

“For the most part, you wouldn’t see any difference in the operation,” he said. “When you call 911 in Jefferson County, an ambulance would be dispatched from Jefferson County.”

Regionalization could bring even better service. For instance, Dimmitt said that if both of Jefferson County’s ambulances were on a call, Henry County could move one of its ambulances to Lockridge to better respond to another emergency in Jefferson County.

The ambulance board will discuss regionalizing and other issues at its next meeting at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Jefferson County Health Center. The meeting is open to the public.