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911 Board renews ambulance service agreement with concerns for future

By JOYANNA LOVE/Managing Editor

The Chilton County 911 Board approved renewing its memorandum of understanding with Regional Paramedical Services to provide ambulance service in the county, rather than approving a new contract, during a meeting on July 2.

Previously, RPS was the only company to respond to the board’s request for proposals to provide full-time, countywide service. The 911 Board’s Ambulance Contract Oversight Group has been meeting and discussing options with the company.

Matt Griffin, chair of the committee, said the six-month extension would give the committee time to work on coming to an agreement everyone could live with.

Griffin said options have been discussed. One of these being subsidizing the ambulance service to ensure the company would make money, even if the calls it responds to do not lead to transporting a patient to a hospital. Traditionally, ambulance services only bill the patient if it transports, leading to many responses that are unpaid.

“If we went with subsidies, where would the money come from?” Griffin said. “We had to kind of step back from that and look at some other avenues outside of the subsidies and really outside the contract to make ambulance response better.”

Kyle McConnell of RPS had presented information to the board during an April 22 meeting to explain what the company needed to maintain its level of service and break even. An estimate of $250,000 for a subsidy had been mentioned by RPS to continue the current level of service.

McConnell said a subsidy “would help us survive and help to keep our pay rate up.”

In a phone interview, McConnell said local governments giving some funding to an ambulance service in the form of a subsidy as long as they met the required level of service is common in other states but not in Alabama.

The board also discussed how there is a shortage of people who will go work for an ambulance service because they can make more working as a paramedic for a fire department.

In a phone interview, McConnell said people leaving were leaving the emergency medical service “in droves.”

“It is a nationwide problem,” McConnell said.

He said the level of service outlined in the additional request for proposals was reasonable. However, it came at bad time because of staffing shortages.

What could be handled by paramedics that are a part of the county’s volunteer fire departments has also been discussed. 911 Board Chair Joseph Parnell mentioned if the county could pay those that currently volunteer as paramedics, they might choose to work closer to home, rather than commuting outside the county for their paying paramedic position.

During the July 2 meeting, concerns were expressed that if Shelby County does not continue using RPS that the company would not be interested in continuing to provide service to Chilton County. RPS is headquartered near Irondale, and Shelby County is between there and here.

Some cities in the RPS service area have bought ambulances or are considering it.

“If Shelby County goes in a different direction, it will adversely affect us?” Parnell asked.

Griffin and 911 Director Terra Scott said it would.

“If this falls through we are down to two options — that is to go into the transport service locally or to subsidize someone else to do it to the point that they can afford to be here, right?” Parnell asked.

“Correct,” Griffin said.

Starting an ambulance service can be expensive.

In Chilton County, Jemison is the only municipality that owns an ambulance.

The number of times the ambulance service responds when the situation may not be an actual emergency was also discussed.

Scott said some of this is because people inaccurately believe they will be seen first if an ambulance brings them in versus driving in. She emphasized that the hospital will still look at the level of need in determining who is seen first.

The renewal of the MOU ensures RPS as the primary ambulance service through Dec. 1, 2021.