City tables decision to establish EMS district, ambulance service

Starkville Fire Department Fire Chief Charles Yarbrough gives a presentation during Tuesday's Starkville Board of Aldermen meeting. Yarbrough provides the benefits of establishing an EMS district within the city. (Photo by Logan Kirkland, SDN)
Staff Writer

The Starkville Board of Aldermen voted Tuesday night to wait until its first board meeting in May before making a decision on whether or not to establish an EMS district and ambulance service within the city.

Ward 4 Alderman Jason Walker proposed the motion after a lengthy discussion, saying there was no need to make a decision that night when they have the time to properly vet out the process. The board approved the motion unanimously.

The motion was to allow any interested parties to provide a presentation at its meeting and allow time for an opportunity for OCH Regional Medical Center to provide some input as well.

"I have no doubt improving ambulance services and health services throughout the city would ultimately make services in the county improve too," Walker said.

After Starkville Fire Department Chief Charles Yarbrough gave his presentation on the benefits of these services, Ward 5 Alderman Patrick Miller praised the idea, but had numerous questions for Yarbrough.

Miller said this shows a strong initiative from the department that the new services would fill the "gap" in services the city doesn't necessarily provide.

As for the specific agency, Miller asked why Yarbrough chose Pafford Emergency Medical Services. Yarbrough said he had spoken with several fire chiefs from across the state and Pafford Emergency Medical Services was a name he frequently heard.

Along with the name, Yarbrough said municipalities spoke highly of its services. Along with the recommendations, Yarbrough said Pafford Emergency Medical Services would provide new ambulances for the city, allow the opportunity to hire residents, all medical supplies and resupplies would be provided, free training and other beneficial services.

Miller said all of the points Yarbrough mentioned are important, but he would like to explore this topic more. "I'd be interested in what other companies would be offering," Miller said.

During citizens comments, Andrew Stevens, resident of Ward 3 said he had several concerns about the proposed action of establishing an EMS District and ambulance service in the city limits.

Stevens said his first concern was it appeared as if the city has already made the decision to award the contract for services.

He said it is important for the city to explore all other options to ensure the taxpayers are receiving the best service possible. Stevens said he also feared having this service within the city would prohibit possible income for the county-wide EMS services.

"I fear a city-wide EMS service could begin to cannibalize the revenue stream for OCH ambulances," Stevens said. "This would harm our publicly-owned hospital while generating profits for a private firm."

When the discussion of OCH was brought up, Miller asked if OCH could potentially provide the same concept with an agreement, Ward 2 Alderman Sandra Sistrunk said the services would be a strain on OCH.

Sistrunk said the county currently subsidizes the ambulance service at the hospital and assess a tax milage rate for the services.

"The cost of the ambulances and the staffing would be significant," Sistrunk said. "I don't think it would be feasible financially."

Mayor Lynn Spruill said she had a conversation with OCH Administrator and CEO Richard Hilton about the proposed idea Tuesday morning.

Spruill said Hilton and the Board of Trustees has looked at offering the same plan in the past, but currently it is not on their radar.

"In large part, they have never done that and are not so inclined at this point," Spruill said.

Spruill said she told Hilton the city was looking at a one-year trial contract, and if during that time the services worked, if OCH would be interested in doing the same.

Spruill said OCH is not in a position to provide the service.

"It is a loss for them," Spruill said. "Ambulance services has always been a loss, which is why it needs to be subsidized."

Miller provided further questions, one which was directed toward Michael Seymour, chief medical officer of Pafford Emergency Medical Services.

Miller asked although the services for the city will virtually be free, he asked where they are generating the revenue.

Seymour said the profit would come from the resident's use of the ambulance. He said the cost is $1,100 for an ALS call and $800 for a basic transfer.

Seymour said the cost may seem high, but they're in collaboration with Blue Cross and Blue Shield, where if they were to transfer someone on Medicare and Medicaid the amount is established by the government.

When Miller asked if the city could be potentially liable with an agreement, City Attorney Chris Latimer advised the board not to move forward with a decision at the time, because they would need to have a separation of responsibilities.

Ward 1 Alderman Ben Carver said he is in favor of the EMS district and services. One question was if the city decided to annex, would the districts be affected in any way. Yarbrough responded saying it would not disrupt the districts.

Although in favor of the idea, Carver said he would like to see what other interested companies have to offer.

"I'm in favor of the lowest and best bid process," Carver said.

Oktibbeha County Emergency Management Director Kristen Campanella was called to the podium to provide her take on the possibility of the city having this service, and she said she was in favor of the service due to it providing additional resources.

Campanella said one of her main goals is to have the area prepared in the event of a disaster, and this would strengthen the ability to respond.

"A fear of mine is that if we have something major here, we're not going to have the response to deal with it, as far as ambulances." Campanella said.