SURGOINSVILLE — Last week Hawkins County EMS removed an ambulance that was staging 24/7 at the Surgoinsville Fire Department, a change that Surgoinville officials didn’t realize had happened until Tuesday.
On Thursday HCEMS Board of Directors chairman Lynn Campbell answered some questions for the Times News about this change and the current financial condition of Hawkins County’s only ambulance service.
Why did you remove the ambulance from Surgoinsville?
Over the last 6-8 months, the Hawkins County EMS Board of Directors have been monitoring the call volume for the entire county at each station. The Board of Directors noted that over a 6-month period the Surgoinsville zone had an average of 283 calls, or less than 2 calls per day, for the 37873 zip code. It takes approximately 4 calls per day to adequately cover the expense of a 24-hour truck.
The Board of Directors has also noted a decrease in insurance reimbursements. When insurance reimbursements decrease this results in the outstanding amount being the responsibility of the patient. Having a poverty level of approximately 19%, citizens simply can’t afford increased medical bills. This results in a large amount of patient responsibility bills being sent to collections for payment.
How did your staffing shortage play into this decision?
The service is currently understaffed due to a national shortage of EMTs and paramedics. This has been a national debate for some time that is easily researched. With our current shortage this results in an ambulance within the county being staffed entirely by overtime hours.
What is the economic impact of removing that ambulance?
It takes approximately $30,000 per month to staff an ambulance with overtime wages. Employees also feel insecure in their job when the franchise is open for ambulance services in the county. An open franchise has the employee unaware of the outcome that could result in their job being abruptly terminated if the franchise is awarded to another service. Having to ensure they have financial means for their family it’s easier to obtain employment with a service that does not have a current open franchise.
Our current revenue streams are insurance reimbursement, patient responsibility bills, and a contribution from Hawkins County. We do not receive any contribution from the cities in the county other than in-kind contributions of them not charging rent for our current stations within the city limits. All the above results in decreased revenue for the service leading the Board of Directors to make decisions to guarantee the best emergency service available for the citizens of Hawkins County.
What will be the affect on response times to Surgoinsville?
We currently have plans in place that constantly rotate ambulances throughout the county, which most counties do, known as posting. This is monitored by administration and the Board of Directors being notified around the clock if the county drops below a certain level of ambulances being available. These are monitored in levels 0-6. Each level correlates with the number of ambulances being available.
As ambulance availability is decreased throughout the county, available ambulances post in those areas to decrease response time until the busy ambulance becomes available. In addition, we operate a power truck, minimum of 8 hours Monday-Friday, that is able to post through-out the county to handle any additional calls for service. Hawkins County EMS maintains an average response time of 9 minutes or less. To my knowledge, we have not dropped below a level 2 since the temporary suspension of the Surgoinsville station. It’s not uncommon for any county within the State to drop to a level 0. Furthermore, we have always had crews on call 24 hours a day that is able to be called in if the call volume/level dictates needing additional power.
Where is the closest ambulance now stationed that would respond to emergencies in Surgoinsville and surrounding communities, as well as Phipps Bend?
The closest 24-hour station is located within a mile of the Surgoinsville city limits at 201 Fudges Chapel Rd., Surgoinsville. This does not include ambulances that post through-out the 24-hour period.
How many ambulances do you have operating 24/7 at this time in the county?
Our current franchise agreement calls for four stations throughout our coverage area. Since the closure of Church Hill EMS, we have operated six stations 24/7 throughout the county. With the temporary suspension of the Surgoinsville station, we are operating five stations.
Station 1 is located in the Lakeview area, Station 2 is located in the Persia area, Station 3 is located in the Rogersville area, Station 5 is located in the Church Hill area within a mile of Surgoinsville city, and Station 6 is located in Mount Carmel. This does not include our current power truck shift.
How is the financial condition of Hawkins County EMS?
The financial situation of Hawkins County EMS is sound. Hawkins County EMS has operated an ambulance service for 31 years. Our Board of Directors currently has controls in place to prevent an abrupt closure like Church Hill EMS. We are 100 percent transparent with the public safety committee of the Hawkins County Board of Commissioners.