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Ind. county tables ambulance provider recommendation, seeks info on fire-based EMS

The Floyd County council members have expressed concerns about the costs of the potential three-year ambulance contract and expressed interest in the fire-based EMS approach

By Brooke McAfee
The Evening News and the Tribune, Jeffersonville, Ind.

FLOYD COUNTY, Ind. — The Floyd County EMS board is delaying a recommendation for an ambulance provider as it seeks more information about potential service from the Highlander Fire Protection District.

The advisory board was scheduled to recommend an ambulance contractor at Tuesday’s meeting but tabled the action until the board’s next meeting. In the meantime, the board intends to explore the fire-based EMS option.

The Floyd County Commissioners received two bids from New Chapel EMS and AmeriPro Health for ambulance service in the county. They are seeking a recommendation from the EMS advisory board before making their decision on an ambulance contract.

The county contracts with New Chapel EMS, but the current agreement is set to expire May 31.

The majority of the discussion at Tuesday’s meeting focused on the possibility of fire-based EMS or hybrid service in the county. The board will receive information from the Highlander Fire Protection District before meeting again on March 21 to make a recommendation.

Christopher Aponte, vice chair of the EMS board, said residents and county officials have asked what fire-based ambulance service would look like in Floyd County.

The board has been exploring what it would involve to start that model of ambulance service “in a quick turnaround,” he said.

“I am an advocate for the fire-based model,” Aponte said. “I don’t think it has received enough attention, whether it was something that happened years ago or something that happened recently.”

He said there might be a contract with a private provider starting June 1, but a fire department could potentially provide EMS “to some extent as a proof of concept.”

Highlander Fire Capt. Brandon Alexander, a member of the EMS board, said the district is still working through details, but it will present an “additional option for the board to look at in regard to EMS service.”

For years, county officials have expressed concerns about run times and quality of service from New Chapel, and the agency has come under recent scrutiny due to the ongoing criminal case against Jamey Noel, the co-founder of New Chapel EMS.

Floyd County Commissioner John Schellenberger notes that county council members have expressed concerns about the costs of the potential three-year contract and expressed interest in the fire-based EMS approach.

He also expressed support for the fire-based EMS model.

“In a way, we have it right now because when you look at it, every EMS call that comes in, you have a fire department responding,” Schellenberger said.

Aponte noted that Highlander currently has two ambulances to provide EMS service in the county, saying that the vehicles are used “as needed when either assets aren’t available or [are] coming from long distances.”

“So it’s not something new for them,” he said. “It’s just, I guess, a change in how it’s provided.”

Floyd County Health Officer Dr. Tom Harris, a member of the EMS board, said the board is “trying to make a decision with incomplete data because of a time constraint.”

He said the county has been facing a “repetitive problem” with changing EMS service over the decades, and he feels the fire-based EMS would get the county to a long-term solution.

“I think we need to look at that option and not blindly accept the two options that we have now,” Harris said.

All three county commissioners are represented on the EMS board. Floyd County Commissioner Jason Sharp, chair of the EMS board, was absent at Tuesday’s meeting.

Floyd County Commissioner Al Knable said he has no issue with exploring a hybrid EMS model, but he is concerned that “no one has presented data” to support that option.

He said the EMS discussion shows a consensus among the board that any contract with an EMS provider “needs to be a bridge” to an “in-house” ambulance service.

“We need to start work immediately in regard to transitioning or at least studying concrete costs of bringing that in-house,” Knable said. “That’s the missing variable.”

Knable said he recently talked with Floyd County Council President Danny Short about the possibility of proposing a month-to-month extension of the county’s contract with New Chapel.

“I made inquiries in regards to that, and we would have to initiate that conversation with New Chapel,” he said. “They are not in a position where they want to extend that offer, and I don’t blame them. We kind of threw that upon them after the RFP.”

Floyd County Councilman Brad Striegel asked the board to delay making a recommendation until “all options are vetted,” including the fire-based EMS option.

He said the county needs to “focus our attention on operating an EMS system or service that is stable, service-oriented and fiscally prudent for taxpayers.”

Striegel said county officials should be “wary of the cost of a private provider and how they are profiting off of fire departments.”

He cited the service that fire departments often provide before private providers arrive at the scene.

“The private provider gets to come in and transport to the hospital when halfway if not more of the work is already done,” Striegel said. “They get a bill for that run, they get a subsidy, and they get to use the assets and municipal assets, yet still make a profit.”

“The fire department does a lot more and does not get a bill for that. That’s an expense to the taxpayer.”

Floyd County Council Member Connie Moon said she has noticed issues with response times in the area of the county she lives in, and she would like to see a move toward a hybrid fire-EMS model.

Moon said she is concerned that the two proposed EMS contracts would “only be a Band-Aid to moving toward countywide EMS.”

She said fire-based EMS is a “bigger process” that needs to be examined thoroughly.

“It is going to take time to figure out the best way,” she said. “Is it just county EMS housing them in the fire [departments], or is it truly cross-referencing and cross-training fire and EMS together.”

Matt Owen, interim chief at New Chapel EMS, said the fire-based EMS discussion has been going on for multiple years.

“I’ve asked, should we include in our proposal an option for fire-based EMS with Highlander fire district [providing service for] their own district, and I was told, no, don’t do that,” he said.

“But to say that we’re just coming up with, well, maybe the fire department should put something together — that’s nonsense,” he said.

Owen said the agency’s service is “not perfect,” but he would “love to partner with Floyd County to make it better.”

“I think we’re in a position where now we can leverage some resources to get us to the next level with some additional training investments,” he said.

The commissioners are asking for three ambulances and a paramedic response vehicle as part of the new contract. New Chapel EMS currently provides two full-time ambulances and a third at peak-run hours in Floyd County.


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