One year later - ALS is breaking even

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By Jonna Spelbring Priester

General Manager

A little more than one year after advanced life support ambulance services became available in Henry County, officials agree it was worth the initial debate and added cost.

Judge-Executive John Logan Brent said the first year was smooth, with the service operating with a relatively negligible financial impact.

“As far as making a direct impact in patient health, we know of a handful of occasions that it has, (but) that’s been very difficult to measure.”

Overall, he said, the service has operated at a near “break-even” status financially.

“(That) is nearly unheard of,” Brent said, giving credit to director Scott McClamroch. “This was a year where we did not have to make any major equipment purchases.”

Based on his research, Brent said the typical EMS with ALS deficit runs anywhere from $100,000 to more than $1 million. Henry County’s EMS, he added, now runs “one month $5,000 to the good, one month $5,000 to the bad, which is extremely significant since it’s a $600,000 budget.”

Brent said that from an operational standpoint, the ALS addition to the county’s emergency services has been smooth. That’s due in no small part he said to quality paramedics.

McClamroch said when the program started, a deficit of $120,000 was expected, and that was a conservative estimate.

“We were conservative in the revenue we felt we were going to bring in, and as far as expenses,” he said. “We’ve been very lucky. We watch everything we spend. We’re very aggressive, as far as non-emergency transports.”

Brent said the non-emergency transports the squad conducts have played a key role.

“Those transports are very profitable as far as insurance paying on them,” Brent said.

Magistrate Wayne Gunnell, who sits on the EMS committee, said the first year has been far better than expected financially.

“I think that for all concerned, Scott McClamroch, the fiscal court, and everyone has done an excellent job.”

Brent and Gunnell said the credit goes to McClamroch.

McClamroch said of the runs made, more than 600 included the paramedic.

And though he said the transition to ALS went much easier that he anticipated, though there were some rough patches.

Those patches, he said, came primarily in the current EMS staff working with paramedics, and the paramedics getting used to the Henry County service and the county. He said working on the protocols and procedures has been a learning experience. Primarily, he said, learning which drugs can be administered, and by whom, has been a growing process. “We knew going in we would have to change some (protocols).”

Having the paramedic available, McClamroch added, has allowed the service to do more runs, including the non-emergency transport service.

McClamroch sees a bright future for the service, but said he hopes to hire paramedics from Henry County.

“We don’t have any paramedics who live in the county,” he said, though he said some of the current paramedics may be looking to move to the county soon. McClamroch said he also hopes to develop medics within the county, but that is a two-year process. Four of the county’s EMTs are in the paramedic program.

Magistrates Wayne Gunnell and David Brown, who sit on the EMS committee, said they were pleased with the status of the ambulance service.

The future of the service, Gunnell said, looks bright.

“I thought once it was in place, once they proved themselves to the community, I don’t think there was any looking backward,” he said. “Our main concern was the cost.”

The service had to prove itself, he said, both in terms of patient care and justification of costs. That may have happened several times, though measuring the impact of ALS could be impossible. Gunnell said that within the first few days of the service, an EMS crew responded to a patient that was ‘near death.’ Through the use of a defibrilator and specific drugs administered by the paramedic, the patient lived.

“I can also tell you how many lives we probably lost because we didn’t have ALS service,” he said. “If we’d had that paramedic on scene who could use the correct drugs, we’d have a lot more people alive today.”

McClamroch foresees a time when there are additional EMS stations in the county, possibly in the Pendleton area. There almost certainly will be a need for additional paramedics, as well as ambulances closer to I-71.

Magistrate David Brown, who also is on the EMS committee, said he too could see a time when the county may need to hire another crew.

“I couldn’t say (when), but I say that would probably be in the near future,” he said.

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