A big change is in the works for Henry County’s ambulance service, but most people may never notice it.
Henry County Medical Center’s Board of Trustees agreed unanimously at its Thursday meeting to enter into a 7-year lease agreement with American Medical Response (AMR) to operate Emergency Medical Services here.
The deal would have the Greenwood, Colo.-based company manage operations of the ambulance service with no subsidy required from either the hospital or the county government, which owns the medical center.
“They’ll be providing operation of the ambulance service for our county,” said Lisa Casteel, HCMC CEO. “It’s a partnership.”
Casteel said the changeover is expected to take place sometime between May and July.
There will be no changes in the size of the ambulance fleet as part of the deal, and all current EMS employees will be offered their current jobs.
“They plan to operate it as it is today,” Casteel said.
The deal should also help ease some of the financial weight the hospital has felt from keeping the ambulance service running.
Casteel said the hospital has put an average of $581,000 a year into the service the last few years, including an average of $381,000 in operations and $200,000 a year in capital.
Casteel said the hospital was approached by three different ambulance services.
“We had one service to approach (County Mayor Brent Greer), then I talked with two other services.”
One service said it was not in the ambulance service business, leaving the hospital to consider two proposals.
The other service, which was not identified, offered in a discussion with Greer to run the service for five years with no subsidy.
AMR is owned by Global Medical Response, which also owns Air Evac Lifeteam — one of the two air ambulance services based at Henry County Airport.
The company made its presentation to Greer, Casteel and EMS Director Twila Rose.
“We chose AMR because they were already an existing partner here in Paris,” Casteel said.
As part of its proposal, AMR would become the exclusive ground ambulance service for the area, except for non-provided services such as neonatal transports.
The company agreed to answer all calls without regard to gender, race, religion, age, nationality, or ability to pay.
It will maintain the current fleet and manpower 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and will perform within the accepted U.S. ambulance response time of nine minutes.
The hospital will lease all ambulances and equipment to AMR without costs. In turn, AMR will cover all service costs, upgrades, licensures, insurance and other costs, as well as replace any ambulance or equipment as needed at their own expense.
In the original proposal, both of the hospital’s ambulance stations operating at the hospital and at the Paris Landing Emergency Complex will be leased to AMR without cost. The hospital’s counter-offer that AMR pay an annual fee of $40,000 for the use of the main ambulance station on Hospital Circle was accepted.
Meanwhile, AMR will take over all utilities, costs and repairs at the two stations.
The hospital has countered this by requiring an annual fee of $40,000 for use of dispatcher services. Those fees will be allocated in the Henry County budget, subject to the approval of the County Commission.
As part of the deal, the hospital will offer AMR first priority for air operations.
According to figures provided at the meeting, the company currently provides 60% of the air operations at the hospital, and recently added a second helicopter.
“This is a great partnership for Henry County, for Henry County Medical Center, for our employees and for AMR,” Casteel said.
In other business, the board agreed to activate an $8 million emergency letter of credit to compensate for a recent loss of surgical income.
Since Gov. Bill Lee issued an order to limit elective surgeries, the hospital has temporarily closed its surgery center.
The board also heard a full briefing on the COVID-19 pandemic from its medical staff.
Board Chairman Scott Whitby began a discussion of COVID-19 with a series of slides and a short overview of what the virus actually was, how it worked, and what the symptoms were.
Other doctors commenting included Charles Rainbolt, medical director of the emergency department; hospitalist Mengistu Yemane; and surgeon Ray Compton.
“We’re using masks and gloves and handwashing techniques,” Dr. Rainbolt said of the emergency department. “Basically everything we can to keep the staff from getting exposed.”
Casteel said the emergency department was doing drive-up testing for local medical providers who didn’t want to bring patients with COVID-19 symptoms into their clinics to be tested.
“If they can’t see the patient, if they will write an order, we’re glad to process the order and do the test.”
Dr. Whitby said there were several different strains of coronavirus.
“There’s thousands of them,” Whitby said. “The coronavirus is kind of like a species.”
COVID-19 somehow made the leap from the animal population, creating a novel virus, or a new disease in humans.
Common symptoms are fever, cough and shortness of breath, while bodyaches are also observed.
The disease is transmitted through respirator drops —water droplets in sneezes and coughs. The virus contained in those droplets can last days on surfaces.
Of those infected with COVID-19, about 80% exerience mild symptoms, while about 17% improve with fluids, rest and nutrition.
About 3% require hospitalization. The most susceptible are the elderly or people with underlying medical conditions such as heart disease or diabetes.
The disease is much likelier to cause death than the flu.
“About one in a hundred people die of COVID-19,” Whitby said. “About one in a thousand die of the flu.”
Whitby said the sparse population density of Henry County is in its favor.
Average infection rate is one in 5,000. Currently in New York, which has a much greater population density, the rate is about 1 in 1,000.
If 1.2 people per thousand got the disease, Whitby estimated there could be 120 people infected here.
Dr. Yemane said the area should prepare for the worst, and hope for the best.
“We need to be prepared as much as possible,” he said.
Compton said his office was “a relative ghost town right now.”
“I’m not sure that what we’ve put together is good news, but maybe there’s a glimmer of hope that this isn’t our black plague,” he said.