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Hancock County ambulance service gets reprieve

WALTER LITTRELL • Feb 19, 2007 at 11:39 AM

SNEEDVILLE - Hancock County commissioners on Monday staved off closure of the county ambulance service for two more weeks by approving a budget amendment to provide an additional $12,000 for personnel costs.

Commissioners have met several times in recent weeks to discuss funding for the emergency medical service, which runs out of money for personnel costs today. Monday's meeting was a continuation of a meeting recessed earlier this month in which Ronnie Collins, the director of the Morristown Emergency Medical Service, offered to look over the Hancock EMS billing practices to see if he could identify ways for the service to find additional funds.

At the start of Monday's meeting, Chairman Ronnie Joe McDaniel asked County Mayor Greg Marion to update the board on the status of the situation. Marion responded that while other items in the EMS budget do have funding, the line item for personnel would be depleted as of Tuesday. The mayor said once the line item was depleted, he would no longer be legally able to make any more payroll payments.

EMS Director Allen Dale Davis then stood up from the audience to speak on how the service is needed, and then to great audience applause asked commissioners to try to fund the department until the end of the year.

Butch Jarnigan, chief executive officer of Allied Ambulance of Morristown, then told commissioners that his company has a collection rate of 70 percent, while he understands that in Hancock County the rate is between 40 percent and 60 percent. After offering his opinion that he could increase the county's collection rate, a member of the audience took him to task and accused him of not using all his service's equipment. Jarnigan then clarified that he was not looking to take over the service, and was merely offering to look over the department's books to identify ways to improve collections.

Marion then introduced Deborah Kitts, of Lifeguard Ambulance Service in Knoxville, and advised commissioners that her company was interested in submitting a proposal to provide services should the county be interested.

Collins then told commissioners that he and his staff had evaluated the county's EMS billing system and determined that the department was doing a reasonable job of collecting its debts. He added that he understands Allied Ambulance charges patients for non-transport services, whereas the county does not.

Various people in the audience then began offering comments and suggestions, which came to a halt when Commissioner Charlie Dunsmore offered a motion to take $6,000 from the fuel line item and another $6,000 from the drugs line item to fund the personnel line item for two more weeks. Commissioner John Goodman offered a second, and the budget amendment passed unanimously.

After a discussion on the proposed National Animal Identification System, commissioners voted unanimously to draft a resolution supporting a voluntary system but not a mandatory one.

Earlier in the meeting, commissioners discussed a proposal for the county to refinance some of its debt with a fixed interest rate. On the recommendation of County Attorney Bill Rhea, the commission voted not to refinance and to keep all county debt on a variable rate.

The meeting ended with a motion to recess until March 5. The motion also included instruction for Marion to meet with Lifeguard and Allied representatives and provide them with the information they need to make a proposal for operating in the county and for him to have information for commissioners on what it will cost to keep the ambulance service open.

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