Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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Columbia County Commission

Columbia County EMS -- What is it about no cost that the County does not get?

The Columbia County EMS issue has been dragging on for years. Columbia County's poor management and accounting skills have once again risen to the surface, as the County thrashes around looking for a solution to a problem that never existed.

For years, Columbia County has been complaining that they are losing money and had to subsidize EMS. Most recently, the County claimed that its cost to subsidize is approximately $1,200,00 a year. This is untrue if one considers that since 2004 the County fathers have given away the profitable side of EMS to Century Ambulance.

Since the beginning of March, Lifeguard Ambulance Company has been negotiating with Columbia County to provide countywide EMS services. Lifeguard has told the County that this can be at no cost to all the citizens of Columbia County, providing that they have a chance to supply interfacility transport within the County confines.

Century, who has the monopoly for interfacility transport, has been lobbying the County against this.

How much is interfacility transport really worth?

It is estimated that Century Ambulance Company generates approximately $5 million worth of revenue inside Columbia County.

Century Ambulance presently runs four ambulances in Columbia County.

According to EMS expert Toby Witt, the average yearly cost to run an ALS ambulance is approximately $500,000 a year.

The math is simple. It costs Century approximately $2 million dollars a year to operate their ambulances within the County.

Their revenue based on 8000 calls a year is approximately $5 million.

Left on the table for Century Ambulance is a profit estimated to be $3,000,000.

Lifeguard Ambulance Company

Everyone agrees that Lifeguard will do a fine job. They are professional, courteous, and knowledgeable, run a tight ship and are willing to hire the current County EMS employees.

Robert Simms of Lifeguard told the Observer: "We've seen some opportunities for efficiency - things we could do. I know there are some issues with the city and the county - we're not interested in that. Lifeguard is interested in running a good ambulance service and serving the citizens in Columbia County. In order to be able to do that, we have to be able to do the city and county together."

It is common knowledge that Lifeguard has offered to run EMS countywide with no charge to the County residents, as long as they have the ability to do interfacility transport.

It is also known that Lifeguard has offered to give some of their profit back to the County.

Columbia County is dragging its feet on the contract. Some folks believe that this is a Columbia County ruse to claim that they cannot come to an agreement with Lifeguard and then begin negotiations with Century Ambulance.

Why not turn EMS service over to the City of Lake City?

The Observer presented this question to City Manager Wendell Johnson.

The Observer: If the City could make 1.5 million dollars running EMS, why wouldn't they do it?

City Manager Johnson: It is something the City has never done. That is an option that has never been discussed.

The Observer: Do you feel that the City could put together a management team that could run EMS countywide?

City Manager Johnson: I don't say that we couldn't. It would be interesting. The challenge would be coming to an amicable relationship with the County.

The Observer: Could the City do it?

City Manager Johnson: That would be a big chunk to bite off. I'm not saying I couldn't do it. I'm not saying I wouldn't do it.

County Management - Poor management

It is well known that the County, under the combined direction of County Manager Dale Williams and the County Fire Chief, Trey Atkinson has not kept the EMS software up-to-date.

The County billing practices and outdated software are causing an average of a half million dollars in late billing and in many instances, under billing.

County Commissioner Jody Dupree

Commissioner DuPree and Commissioner Ronald Williams have said time and time again that they want to keep Columbia County money in Columbia County. If that is the case, and they truly meant it, why are they looking to privatize EMS to a company located outside of Columbia County and in business to make a profit?


Once again, the legendary Columbia County does not disappoint. It is business as usual, with the working families of the County taking it on the chin.

For years, Columbia County's good ol' boys have intentionally been running EMS at a deficit. The County gave away the profitable side of the ambulance business. They were not straight with either Lake City or the County residents, never telling them that EMS could have been run at no cost to the County.

EMS is on the County agenda for tonight's Commission meeting – stay tuned.

This work by the Columbia County Observer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 United States License.

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