Rescue Squad seeks help from city, county
Published 8:18 pm Thursday, April 2, 2015
Faced with serious financial difficulties, the Carter County Rescue Squad said if it does not receive additional funding from the county and city it will have to sell the agency to an outside company in order to maintain emergency medical services for local residents.
For this fiscal year, the Rescue Squad is requesting $387,000 in additional funding from the county and an increase of $100,000 in funding from the city – money they say is necessary to continue operations.
On Wednesday morning, representatives from the Carter County Rescue Squad attended the Financial Management committee meeting and broke the news to the committee that their Board of Directors has authorized the sale of the agency. Director Terry Arnold, Deputy Director Anthony Roberts and CCRS Board of Directors Chairman Sam Shipley all attended the meeting and addressed the group regarding the major decision the agency faces.
“We’re in dire straights financially,” Shipley said. “It’s not because of mismanagement or mishandling of any funds; it’s because of the cuts we’ve received.”
About 10 years ago, the Rescue Squad began facing cuts and decreases in funding, Arnold said. The cuts came from several sides – local governments lowered funding as they faced their own financial situations, the federal government began lowering Medicare reimbursement payments and private insurance companies also began decreasing their payments as well.
At the same time, the money owed to the Rescue Squad by patients as their portion of their bill began to increase while the amount of money actually being paid to the agency by those patients decreased, Arnold said.
Funds coming into the Rescue Squad continued to dwindle as the costs and number of service calls for the agency climbed. The cost of training, equipment and everyday medical supplies for the ambulances has also seen steep increases.
“How we’ve survived is when we’ve had people leave to go other places, we’ve not replaced them,” Arnold said. “We’ve done everything we can to survive all the cuts that have come down.”
At one time the Rescue Squad had 52 employees; now that number is down to 32 and Arnold says it is placing a strain on the agency and the service it provides.
Reducing the number of employees means the Rescue Squad has fewer ambulances and emergency medical crews working at any given time. Those employees who remain are answering more and more service calls, oftentimes not getting breaks Arnold said.
Not having the money to invest in personnel and equipment will eventually lead to a lower quality of service and has already resulted in some employees leaving the agency, Arnold said.
“We’ve had to cut it to the bare bones and our people deserve better than that,” he added.
In addition to reducing the number of staff, the agency has made other cuts as well. All of management took a 5 percent cut in pay and the agency eliminated retirement plans for its employees in an effort to save money, Arnold said.
“All of the management has taken on more and more duties that we used to have other people do,” Arnold said.
Currently, the Carter County Rescue Squad receives $170,000 annually from the Carter County Commission and $20,000 annually from the City of Elizabethton, Arnold said. Those funds are allocated to the agency for providing rescue operations, body removal service and providing for indigent patients.
In 2014, the Rescue Squad provided body removal services on 35 occasions, at a cost of $14,581. That same year, they answered 72 medical calls to the Carter County Detention Center at a cost of $41,196. Those two services ate up $55,777 out of the $170,000 allocated by the county, leaving $114,223 for rescue operations and indigent patient service.
Since 2009, funding provided by Carter County to the agency has decreased by about a third. In 2009, the County Commission allocated $277,000 to the Rescue Squad. By 2014 that funding had fallen to $170,000.
Faced with a financial situation that has become critical, the Rescue Squad’s Board of Directors voted to approach the city and county for an increase in funding and a commitment to support the agency. But if those commitments aren’t received, the Board will follow through with the sale.
“We are at the point where we will have to do something,” Arnold told the committee on Wednesday. “If you want to support it, fine, but if not we are moving on. We do not have time to wait; it will cost people lives.”
“This is an entity that if you want it you are going to have to support it,” he added. “You can’t kick it around, and I don’t care to say we’ve been kicked around.”
The Rescue Squad has spoken with and vetted three different companies about possibly buying the Carter County Rescue Squad, but the agency will not sell to just anyone, Arnold said.
“We’re trying to find someone who will stand for what we stood for, and that is protecting the people of Carter County,” he said. So far, he added, the agency has narrowed the list down to one company they would consider selling to.
“I hope that doesn’t happen,” Arnold said. “I hope we can work things out and get back on the right track.”