BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
LEE COUNTY – Lee County officials today are looking at what it would take to secure another year of ambulance service for the county.
The Lee County Board of Supervisors called a second emergency meeting in less than two weeks Friday morning to address shortfalls in the Lee County ambulance service revenues.
Lee County Supervisor Gary Folluo said he was going to make calls today to find out what it would cost the county to secure Lee County Emergency Medical Service, or another service with a ground license, for one year starting July 1.
The meeting Friday morning included elected officials from the county, county staff, fire chiefs from Fort Madison and Keokuk and LeeComm dispatch staff.
Keokuk Fire Chief Gabe Rose said he and Fort Madison Fire Chief Joey Herren are working on getting transport licenses because right now they don’t have one. He said Keokuk has an old hazmat vehicle they could “throw a cot in”, but Fort Madison doesn’t have any type of rig.
Rose said any license they get wouldn’t include the county at this point, unless the supervisors gave them the green light to go after a countywide license.
“At this point Joey doesn’t even have a rig. We’re not saying we wouldn’t be willing, but we don’t know where we would get any funds for rigs and equipment. If you give us the green lights we will absolutely try to cover what we can in the county,” Rose said.
“But if you lose Lee County Ambulance and their license and/or employees, we don’t have neighboring communities that could help. Say you have a wreck in the county, we can’t transport those people. We can put bandages on them, but who would take them to the hospital?”
Supervisor Matt Pflug asked if the ambulance service had yet answered the question as to whether or not they were going to sign another contract.
Folluo said it was his understanding that they weren’t going to sign up again. Rose also said based on a conversation he had with the ambulance service, it was not their intention to continue the contract.
But Lee County Auditor Denise Fraise said she received an email from Lee County EMS outlining what rate structures would look like next year, which she said baffled her.
“I was taken completely off guard by that, but I would go with what Gary says – that they’re not going to go on,” Fraise said.
Lee County Attorney Ross Braden said despite the company coming up with revenues to meet payroll this week, they are still in dire financial shape and it could very well be a week-to-week situation until the contract expires June 30.
Board Chair Ron Fedler said he fielded calls for about three hours Thursday night from residents who were hearing the ambulance service could fold any day, and that EMTs there are looking for work because of the situation.
Fedler also asked Braden if the ambulance service is under any obligation to reimburse the county for additional funds provided through the contract. Braden said those funds are discretionary contributions and are not considered a loan, therefore do not need to be paid back.
Folluo said the county is 90 days away from the end of the contract and now they are basically looking for someone to take over July 1st.
“We’re a week into this thing and we’re being asked to come up with a resolution or a summary of what our options are, which is taking other counties 12 to 18 months to do,” Folluo said.
“We’re kind of crash-coursing this thing and we need to make sure our i’s are dotted and t’s are crossed and there’s a lot of work to do yet.”
Fedler talked about forming a task force with reps from the cities and county emergency responders and elected officials. However, a motion was never made. An ad hoc committee has been taking part in informational meetings over the past two weeks.
Folluo said he didn’t know if a task force was needed at this point. Herren cautioned the group about having too many people on a committee bogging down progress due to the short time line the county is facing in securing a service.
He also said that the Public Safety Answering Point board and LeeComm dispatch was on board with helping take on dispatching duties.
Travis Solem, LeeComm director said he was willing to meet with any groups and dispatch was ready to move forward. Folluo said having LeeComm handle dispatch services for the ambulance would save the service money.
Folluo said two private companies, CARE out of Iowa City, and Global Medical Response/AirEvac have expressed interest in providing service to Lee County.
Folluo said CARE just signed a contract to provide services in Jefferson County for less than $400,000 a year, but he pointed out that Jefferson County has their own county hospital where all patients are transported, and its a smaller county than Lee County.
Herren said officials with the Burlington Fire Department were at Fort Madison City Hall Friday morning outlining how that fire department gets revenue to support its ambulance service for Des Moines County.
“We’ve got people up there in that meeting now,” Herren said. “I don’t have those answers right now, but I’ll have them today.”
Fraise said she liked the idea of hearing what Des Moines County was doing.
The board did pass a motion for Folluo to contact Lee County EMS or another company to see what it would take to provide service to the county for one year. That motion passed 5-0 with Folluo voting “reluctantly – aye”.
This year the county has earmarked $466,000 including the $36,000 that was provided last week to cover payroll. In January, Lee County EMS Director Bill Young, asked the supervisors to increase supplemental funding to $500,000.
Folluo said figures being talked about in his conversations with Lee County EMS are now in the $750,000 to $1 million range.