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Preston Commissioner wants to boost EMS services

KINGWOOD — Preston County has wonderful EMS services, but they need a boost to improve their services.

That’s why Commissioner Dave Price wants to inject about $400,000 of the county’s CARES money, of which it has $922,018.55, into the county’s EMS programs and establish a yearly EMS fee through an ordinance.

Price raised the idea at the county’s first work session discussing how to spend the CARES money Aug. 31. 

“I still say that our main responsibility, even though we like to do the other things, our main responsibility is health and safety,” Price said. 

There are three paid EMS services in the county, KAMP Central Ambulance Services, Terra Alta Community Ambulance Squad Inc. and Bruceton Community Ambulance Inc. 

In return for the financial assistance, there would be certain requirements, such as the number of medic crews that are on 24/7 and where those crews are located, Price said. Those requirements would then be monitored by some kind of committee or oversight body.

Price said  it sounds like a lot of money, and it is, but when you’re talking about such expensive items it’s really not as much as it seems. For example, Price said an EMS service in the county recently got a grant for $150,000, which paid for three cots.

Dr. Frederick Conley has been with Mon Health Preston Memorial Hospital for 42 years. He is a former emergency department physician, is a physician liaison, and is on the 911 Advisory Council. He also doubles as the county health officer but that role isn’t that involved with EMS, he said.

Conley said an ambulance can cost $250,000-$300,000 and might need replaced every five or six years. The services take out loans to pay for huge expenses like that and then spend most of their money on loans. With the injection of cash, those loans could be helped with and services could look into using their money to hire additional staff.

To be clear, Conley said the problems with EMS are not a reflection of the workers.

“This in no way reflects on their abilities or what they do. They are doing their absolute best and putting in tremendous extra hours and overtime to do the best they can, but they just can’t keep up,” Conley said. 

There just isn’t enough money. 

Kelly Fike, president of Terra Alta Community Squad and an employee at KAMP, said purchasing equipment can be challenging because of the price and they don’t make money on every call. For example, a patient refusal generates no money but still puts wear and tear on an ambulance. 

“You bill insurances, and yeah, you get what you can retrieve from the insurances. And then, you know, there’s still copays that we don’t always see, and the insurances won’t always pay all of the bill,” Fike said. “And then you have the patients that don’t have insurance and have no way of paying that, you know, you don’t recoup anything.”

Terra Alta is staffed all but 12 hours a week, which Fike can’t do without paying two people for overtime every week. She said people aren’t knocking down doors to do EMS work. There is no health insurance, no 401k or retirement, and only full-time staff get vacation. 

“There are EMTs and medics who want to come back to Preston County that are driving out of the county,” Price said at the work session. “One of the hitches was being able to offer insurance, and that is being worked through.”

Of course, without a sustainable income the injection of cash from CARES would only solve the problem for a year, Conley said.

“You can’t do everything in one year and expect that to continue for the future,” Conley said. “You have to have a means to sustain. And that’s why the ordinance, if we don’t have that, this will absolutely fail. That’s why we have to have a means to sustain it. And the only way to do it is to be using public funds. But the public needs to realize, but these public funds coming from an ordinance as well as the CARES money is going to be scrutinized very, very carefully–since this is public funds — to make sure this being used appropriately and responsibly.”

Price said the ordinance would assess the EMS fee to property owners and said the “ballpark” figure was $8 a month or roughly $100 a year, though “it may be a little more, it may be a little less.”

“But what I guess I’m saying is everybody participates. So, if you live in Preston County, you have to live someplace. And you have to pay a little bit to have this service,” Price said. “We have a lot of older folks in the county, and on the plus side they’re wonderful citizens who have done their jobs over the years. And they also have a limited income. And we’re trying to be very careful about that. But they’re also the people who might need it next with the EMS service So, it’s a balancing act.”

Conley said he doesn’t know of any instances where a lack of an ambulance directly caused a death but he worries every day it could happen.

“And I don’t want to wait until that happens,” Conley said. “Before we act, we have to be proactive.”

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