Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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Lifeguard Ambulance, A Good Deal For Columbia County? Former union president weighs in

There seems to be a misconception by some that the privatization of Columbia County's Emergency Medical Service (EMS) was a good deal for the County.

Good deal for the County? Before anyone backs the County and Lifeguard, let's go over some of the facts.

While some supporters of the EMS privatization may have business knowledge, their knowledge of EMS is severely lacking. Some claim that Lifeguard better serves the County. Those that do are mistaken. Columbia County Emergency Medical Service (CCEMS) response times were better than Lifeguard's and as for Lifeguard having a higher level of service; again the privatization supporters come up short.

On day one Lifeguard cut the County's level of service in half by providing one Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) and one Paramedic per ambulance.

Ninety percent of the crews of the CCEMS were two paramedic crews. Those crews that were not had an EMT in training to become a certified paramedic, which they were required to become within two years.

Why would Lifeguard only require one paramedic per ambulance? For them, it is good business sense. It's cheaper. The unfortunate result - a lower level of service.

A certified paramedic receives over a thousand hours of training. An EMT, only about 10% of that.

The Lifeguard-privatization supporters, including the County Commission, claim the county is saving $1.2 million. An examination of the facts sinks that argument to the level of a joke.

The County had not updated their billing rates in over 10 years. If Columbia County was not the lowest charging EMS service in the state, there weren't too many lower. If the County had upped the rates to the Medicaid/Medicare minimums, it would have increased its revenue by at least $700,000, cutting the claim of a $1.2 million deficit to $500,000.

Additionally, if the County would have out sourced their billing, as do most EMS services, they could have increased collections another 20%. This increase is what the billing companies promise!

If the County would have gone with a computer based run report, for which the software was purchased on two separate occasions, but never used, there would have been more savings. The County's reason for not going with the new and efficient software package: They were waiting on 911 dispatch to come on board with its new software.  While that is another story, the County could have increased revenue by at least another 20%, again a figure which is promised by the software companies.

The County has also hidden from the public a huge additional revenue stream.

CCEMS made several proposals to take over some of the inter facility transfers in the County. Anyone who knows EMS knows this is where the real money is. Larger counties know this and do it.

CCEMS presented all the above information to the County and had the County taken CCEMS's advice, a $4.5 million revenue stream would have been established. That was after all expenses. This would have covered the entire EMS budget, with the additional benefit of covering a large portion of the Fire budget.

The very first week that Lifeguard was in operation it started going after inter facility transfers, something right out of the CCEMS play book.

Instead of CCEMS, there is a government subsidized private company providing EMS for the County's residents, which gets its ambulances and buildings, bought with your tax dollars, for two bucks a year.

The County's claims of a $1.2 million deficit, a deficit which should really be called County mismanagement, are just bunk.

Today, Columbia County's Emergency Medical Service is no more. It was run by its citizens and put the needs of the citizens first. Why wouldn't we? We were your friends and neighbors. 


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