The issue of whether the ambulance service should remain with Calhoun-Liberty Hospital or be taken over by the Calhoun County Board of Commissioners came up for discussion at last week’s board meeting.
Hospital CEO Jim Heitzenrater was on the agenda for the meeting, but failed to show. Instead, he submitted a letter to the board detailing what would be expected of them should they opt to take the reigns.
“The county has been subsidizing the ambulance service to the tune of $240,000 per year, and currently our contract has expired,” said Heitzenrater.
He noted the hospital has lost an estimated $230,000 with the ambulance service this year.
Commissioner Thomas Flowers was confused by this statement. “We’re told for years it’s breaking even, then we get a letter.”
Flowers said a committee meeting he was selected to attend to discuss EMS financials has never taken place due to scheduling conflicts, but he is still hoping to have that meeting.
In the letter, Heitzenrater says among the steps the county will need to take if they choose to oversee the ambulance service are:
-Apply for the transfer of the certificate of need from the hospital to the county (4-6 week process)
-Take charge of the services effective approximately Sept. 1, 2016
-Hire a medical director
-Complete the advanced/basic life support services license (45-60 day process)
-Develop a Department of Health Trauma Transport Protocols Manual
-Contract with a pharmacist to oversee the drugs and process of disposal of unused medications
-Find a facility from which to operate the services (current location is a possibility)
-Obtain Medicaid and Medicare billing numbers (6 week process, plus months before billing actually begins)
Heitzenrater noted the hospital owns one of the ambulances and would be keeping it as a transport vehicle for the hospital. In addition, he said the county might be obligated to keep some contracts in place such as with the billing company.
Heitzenrater went on to say the hospital board believed they could “correct some of the problems” with the ambulance service and make it a “break even” proposition. “If the Board of County Commissioners of Calhoun County, Florida, is desirous of us to continue to provide the ambulance service, we certainly need to renegotiate our
contract and make this a formal business arrangement.”
The letter did not sit well with Commissioner Lee Shelton.
“To me, it’s like a little bit of a scare tactic,” Shelton remarked. “It’s this is what you are going to have to do if you want to take it over, then they’re wanting to renegotiate the contract.”
Shelton added that the hospital has not been forthcoming on how the county’s $20,000 monthly contribution for years has been spent. “If they can come in here and justify what they’re doing with the first $240,000, then we’ll talk about some more money. But they’re not going to tell us what they’re doing with that money.”
As for equipment mentioned in the letter, Commissioner Thomas Flowers noted that several grants have been used to purchase equipment for the ambulance service. He also remarked that the board had previously been told the ambulance service was profitable.
“If the county did run the ambulance service, they would still go to patients, assess them and take them to the hospital,” Shelton pointed out. “You’re still going to have the same amount of calls - it doesn’t matter who’s running the ambulance service.”
Commissioner Darrell McDougald said he has spoken to some of the hospital board members about the matter. “One big thing is the hospital board is the same board for the ambulance service,” he remarked. “We’d have to set up our own management staff. They are using hospital administrative staff to run the ambulance and we would have to set up our own administrative staff. The hospital has a board with no political appointees - they are members of the community. If the county runs it, a lot of times appointments become political.”
County Attorney Matt Fuqua suggested the Commission get input from other counties before making a decision.
As previously reported by The County Record in December 2015, Ruth Attaway, then Interim CEO who now serves as Chairman of the Calhoun-Liberty Hospital board, announced, “While reviewing the financial records of both the hospital and the ambulance service on September 30, we found significant inconsistencies and troubling evidence that led us to believe there was an elaborate criminal scheme to defraud the hospital of a large sum of money.”
Over $1 million - almost the amount to the penny the county had contributed to EMS during that six-year time period in question - had been spent with a bogus supply company that didn’t exist. The trail led to a post office box in Tallahassee, but no actual business. Some months, supplies that were never delivered amounted to around $20,000 - exactly what the county contributes.
Attaway said former CEO Phillip Hill was under investigation in the matter and that case remains open at this time.
I called the new ambulance service since the big turnover. I live in Clarksville which is 12 miles from Blountstown.. I called an said my mother was in heart distress and had heart problems. I told them my daughter would be at the street. It took the ambulance 18 minutes to get to my mothers house which is a mile down 73 south. The ambulance went by my daughter no lights or sirens had to turn around to get to us. The two men were not in any kind of hurry. I informed them about how upset I was about the time. They then became very defensive with me. They didn't know how to get the gurney in the side door so they brought in a chair. So my mother had to be lifted several times. I am not impressed with the new people. What happened to all the local people? It was nice and comforting to see the faces of someone you now not being told if you don't calm down I will call an officer. This was not right. When a parent or family member is having heart problems we do not need ambulance personnel with no regard for them or the family.