EMS officials protest cuts to state funding

J. H. Osborne • Aug 29, 2008 at 12:00 AM

BLOUNTVILLE — Some area 911 responders are trying to get out the 411 on recent state budget cuts they say could mean higher local taxes, rate increases, fewer services — or some combination of those things.

The region’s Emergency Medical Service (EMS) organizations want you to contact lawmakers — state representatives and state senators — and ask for a reversal of an earlier decision that reduced state reimbursements to local EMS agencies for transporting TennCare/Medicaid patients.

According to the Northeast Tennessee EMS Directors Association, which held a press conference on the issue Friday, the state budget cuts will cost:

•Washington County/Johnson City EMS, $400,000.

•Sullivan County EMS, $276,000.

•Carter County EMS, $200,000.

•Greene County EMS, $175,000.

The state budget cuts for crossover reimbursement to ambulance services total more than $11.4 million statewide (more than $7.3 million in federal funds and more than $4.09 million in state funds).

Members of the group who spoke at the press conference said the “devastating” and “crippling” cuts were a total surprise.

“No one knew it was coming,” said Terry Arnold, the group’s president.

It’s up to each agency to figure out how to cover the funding loss — with the budget year already under way for most agencies, Arnold said.

Cutting personnel would be a last resort, most of the group said.

Mark Vance, operations manager for Sullivan County EMS — and also a Sullivan County commissioner — said call volume has been on the upswing, as have fuel prices.

Coupled with the unexpected drop in state reimbursements, that could leave local EMS agencies “headed into a dead-end alley,” Vance said.

He and others said they’ve been talking with state legislators who represent Northeast Tennessee and urging them to reconsider the cuts.

State legislators from the region voted on the budget — including the cuts — but didn’t realize what the $11.4 million line item to cut crossover reimbursement for ambulance services meant, Vance and others in the group said.

Allen Taylor, executive director of the Washington County/Johnson City EMS, said the cuts will affect the convalescent and BLS — basic life support — calls.

“These people need this service because they have no other way of being transported,” Taylor said.

Basic life support service would be a situation where the patient is on oxygen, which EMS personnel would continue to administer during the transport.

“These calls account for 5 to 10 percent of our call volume,” said Taylor. “We probably have the largest cut in the region because of our call volume.”

Vance said the $276,000 reduction to Sullivan County EMS is about 5 percent of the agency’s overall budget — which, by mandate of the Sullivan County Commission, is expected to be self-funded.

NET News Service staff writer Becky Campbell contributed to this report.

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