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County to merge paid, volunteer EMS services

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By Jonna Spelbring Priester

In the beginning, Henry County EMS was strictly volunteer.

Then, in the 1990s, the county switched to a paid EMS service, with the volunteers pitching in.

That will soon change, as the volunteers will merge with the paid service, as announced last week during the regular meeting of the Henry County Fiscal Court.

The announcement came with mixed emotions for at least one long-time volunteer. “I’m not against the paid service at all,” Bobby Burnett said. “If we don’t do it this year, it’ll be the next year. I’ll retire. I’ve been doing EMS for 42 years, been a certified EMT for 42 years.”

From the beginning, volunteers like Bobby, Connie and Patrick Burnett, and Rodney Young, were there, and have stayed.

“It’s hard telling how many lives they’ve saved over the years,” Magistrate Nick Hawkins said. “They’re a shining example of what it means to be a great citizen, not only the lives they saved, but the money they saved taxpayers by being willing to volunteer their time. I couldn’t express enough thanks for what they’ve been willing to do over the years.”

Hawkins said the merge has been a long-brewing idea that became reality when Eminence dissolved its volunteer EMS program and consolidated it with the paid service last year.

That left volunteer units in Campbellsburg and Pleasureville.

Currently, the county has an agreement with the volunteer squads that when volunteers make a run, either partially or fully, the county would bill the patients’ insurance companies, and forward payment to the volunteer squads.

Under the merger, the volunteers could still make a run, but rather than getting a stipend from the volunteers’ funds of $10/run, the county proposed paying the volunteers an hourly wage. The billing would stay in the county’s general fund, instead of writing a check to the volunteer squad.

“I think they’re going to come out ahead,” Hawkins said. “It will be a lot less headache for them. We’ll maintain their ambulances for them.”

Those volunteer ambulances, Hawkins added, will stay in Campbellsburg and Pleasureville.

Residents, he added, shouldn’t see a change. If anything, he indicated, residents will see a better EMS service.

“We hope to incorporate some of our own employees into being able to use some of the (volunteer) ambulances in the future, and partner with people who are volunteers,” he said. “If we have an EMT in Pleasureville, the long-term plan is to get this person involved with Rodney.”

“The court was looking at trying to combine resources and use (consolidation) as part of a plan to bring the budget back into balance,” he said. “I really don’t see that there will be much of a change in service.

EMS Supervisor Josh Jamiel told Burnett and Young they were still essential to the EMS. “I know that if it weren’t for you… runs wouldn’t happen,” he said.

Burnett later said that the squads have “been going 10 years with little income and the same expenses. We’ve depleted our savings.”

The magistrates voted to approve the merger, based on the EMS committee, EMS squad and volunteers creating a workable solution.

“We’re going to go with the merger,” Burnett said. “I’ve already voted on it. I voted to merge.”

Young said he felt he had no choice but to go ahead with the merger.

Hawkins said a timeline for the merger will take place after the volunteers, EMS and committee workout a timeline. He anticipated the merger would happen around Jan. 1, 2013.

Magistrate Scott Bates, who serves as chair of the EMS committee, had high praise for the volunteers.

“I want to say publicly, that I appreciate what you guys have done, and the other volunteers,” he said. “I know Josh has told me several times that we could not run it, because during the day you are available.”

 

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