Rescue Squad may close 2 stations
Published 8:07 am Wednesday, July 29, 2015
Residents in some of Carter County’s outlying communities may soon find themselves waiting a little bit longer for help to arrive if they find themselves or a loved one facing a medical emergency.
The Carter County Rescue Squad’s board of directors has voted to close down two of the emergency service’s substations — one in Hampton and one in Roan Mountain — if additional funding is not secured to cover the expenses.
“The board voted last month to shut down Station 2 and Station 3 in order to save money,” CCRS Director Terry Arnold said. “They don’t want to shut it down, but you’ve got to have money to do things.”
The two stations were set to close on at the end of the day Friday, but on Tuesday evening the Board voted to wait until after the County Commission meets on August 4 to see if additional funds are received, Arnold said.
The closure of those substations would impact residents in the Hampton, Roan Mountain, Little Milligan and Elk Mills communities as well as rescue operations on Watauga Lake.
“We’ve still got service to those areas, but it may take us a bit longer to get there,” Arnold said.
Earlier this year, the Rescue Squad approached Carter County and the city of Elizabethton and requested additional funding for the agency. 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 the squad says is necessary to continue operations.
The city already has approved its budget for the 2015-16 fiscal year, which did not include an increase for the emergency service.
The county’s budget process has been delayed, and members of the Carter County Commission are scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday after a public hearing. The proposed budget for the county also does not include an increase for the Rescue Squad.
Over recent years, financial difficulties for the Rescue Squad have increased as 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.
Faced with serious financial difficulties, the Carter County Rescue Squad said if it does not receive additional funding from the county and city it may have to sell the agency to an outside company in order to maintain emergency medical services for local residents.