County halts EMS contract talks

Aug. 09, 2014 @ 12:57 PM

Union County has halted contract negotiations with Carolinas Healthcare Systems that a proposed “dynamic deployment” model.

“Based upon the input received from the community meetings, we have placed an extension on the August 18 agenda to take the existing contract to September 30, 2014 while we continue to work on the contract,” Union County Public Information Officer Brett Vines stated in an Aug. 7 email.

County officials held three community meetings earlier this month about changes to its partnership with CHS, which operates Union EMS. One proposed change would concentrate on-duty, available ambulances along U.S. Highway 74 at strategic times to better respond to call volume. Currently, ambulances have “static bases” or stations from which they deploy. Those bases are in different locations around Union County.

People attending the community meetings voiced concerns about longer response times in rural areas if ambulances were stationed along 74. Residents and commissioners talked about Union EMS’s high volume of non-emergency transports since there are no other ambulance services in the county.

Commissioners Jonathan Thomas and Richard Helms lead a July 31 community meeting at Mineral Springs Volunteer Fire Department. The county wanted the public’s input on EMS service and would only approve a contract that was good for residents, they said.

Union County first signed a service contract with CHS to run its ambulance service in 1997. Over the years, the terms have stayed mostly unchanged. Taxpayer money subsidizes any Union EMS uncollected user fees. A bulk of the funding comes from insurance payments and reimbursements from Medicare and Medicaid.

Union County hired Fitch and Associates more than a year ago to analyze the county’s EMS needs and recommended keeping the partnership with CHS and add specific goals to the service contract.

During the July 31 meeting, Thomas said negotiations were ongoing between County Manager Cindy Coto and Carolinas Medical Center - Union President Michael Lutes. He estimated the new contract would be signed within a week to 10 days of that meeting.