KINGWOOD — A group of volunteers is working to establish an official EMS advisory committee in Preston County.
The move is part of the larger effort to support and improve EMS services in the county through the use of CARES funding and eventually the passing of an ordinance establishing a fee to fund the EMS system.
Preston County received about $922,000 in CARES money as reimbursement for expenses caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The Preston County Commission has been discussing using at least $400,000 of that as an injection into the county’s EMS services.
“These CARES funds likely represent a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for you to substantially make a positive change for our EMS agencies,” Dr. Fred Conley, the county’s health officer and a volunteer on the EMS advisory board, told the commission Tuesday. “… I don’t think it’ll ever come again, that we’ll have this opportunity. We’ve never had it. I’ve been working with them for 49 years. And we have never had this opportunity.”
One purpose of the committee will be to help guide the county commission in the use of those CARES funds, Conley said. The board can help determine what is responsible spending.
Four of the county’s six ambulance squads, Kamp, Terra Alta, Bruceton Mills and Union, have tentatively agreed to sign a contract to work with the advisory board, Conley said. The contract includes stipulations such as working together as a buying group to save money, standardized response times, financial transparency and coverage guarantees in exchange for public funding.
The board is working to establish itself as a 501c4 in order to handle funds and is drafting bylaws and a charter to comply with state regulations, Conley said.
Multiple people have committed to serving on the board, if approved by the commission, Conley said. They include Prosecutor Jay Shay, to provide legal advice; Tim Kelly, a CPA, for financial guidance; Dr. Marisa Downey, Conley, two representatives from the newly formed Ambulance Association and Assistant Director of Preston OEM/E911 Justin Wolfe.
“It is an excellent variety of expertise,” Commissioner Dave Price told The Dominion Post. Price is also serving on the board as a non-voting member.
Everyone who has volunteered brings something to the table that will be important in taking the county’s EMS service to the next level, Price said.
The county’s EMS services face similar problems such as heafy monthly loan payments on items that are too expensive to buy outright but critical to have — such as heart monitors and ambulances.
EMS services in Preston County and around the country rely largely on insurance payments for funding. Not every call triggers a payment, such as a refusal of service, but the expenses remain. Nationally, EMS services expect to collect about 50% of the billed amount.
Discussions in work sessions have focused on possibly paying off some of those debts to free that money up for additional personnel, increased wages and benefits. EMS wages are low, which makes recruitment and retention a problem in Preston County and around the country.
Commissioner Samantha Stone said she appreciated Conley coming forward and said she strongly believes there needs be an organization like the board because the commissioners are not EMS professionals.
“I think we’ve all been game for this funding to help. But we’ve got to do it right,” Stone said.
Conley advocated for the establishment of an EMS ordinance to keep the services from losing the opportunity provided by the CARES money.
Price said the accountability the board will provide is important before going to the people of Preston County and asking them to support a fee, which is something state code allows the commission to establish.
Appointments for the board will be on the agenda at the commission’s next meeting and while Price couldn’t speak for the other commissioners he said he’s ready to move forward with it.