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Possible new versions of SEOEMS debated

In about two weeks Lawrence County could learn if it will be missing a partner in the long-time tri-county effort to provide ambulance service to the region.

That’s when the Athens County Commissioners may consider pulling out of the Southeast Ohio Emergency Management Services District that manages the emergency squads for Athens, Jackson and Lawrence counties.

SEOEMS started out in the mid 1970s as a federal project taking in seven counties. However, it cut its area to the three counties it currently serves.

In recent months the future of the financially beleaguered SEOEMS has been debated as it faced back bills for employee pension plans and federal taxes.

Last month all three counties agreed to advance the district a total of $385,000 to get caught up with those bills.

With the potential of Athens’ leaving the district, the Lawrence County Commissioners discussed scenarios for the future at their Thursday meeting.

“If Athens drops out, what if Jackson did also from the district, we could not say we want SEOEMS to dissolve,” Commissioner Les Boggs said.

Advantages to maintaining the district could include it already having established billing practices for insurance and Medicare, he said.

Getting a Medicare number could take up to nine months for a new billing entity.

Boggs also suggested having 911 handle local SEOEMS calls to reduce the number of dropped calls and the length of time getting an ambulance to a requesting party.

“If (Athens does drop out) what I would like to do is reach out to the Jackson County Commissioners to see what they would do,” Commissioner Jason Stephens said. “There is no animosity between the counties. They believe they can do it cheaper on their own.”

Right now local SEOEMS board members — Stephens, Bruce Trent and Ironton Fire Chief Tom Runyon — are working on a contingency plan should Athens and/or Jackson pull out.

“I think the structure could be tweaked, rather than disbanded,” Stephens said. “There will be a public EMS in our county.”