Athens leaves SEOEMS

Published 10:39 am Wednesday, August 25, 2010

It was a vote that was expected. Now Lawrence plans to go forward after Athens County Commissioners voted Tuesday to pull out of the Southeast Ohio Emergency Medical Services.

“We have a structure in place for EMS in Lawrence County,” Commissioner Jason Stephens said. “It is not going to be a deal where the ambulances are not going to come.”

Recently the ambulance service district made up of Athens, Jackson and Lawrence counties has faced severe financial problems.

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The country’s economic downturn combined with bills not being collected and other accounting problems put SEOEMS on shaky ground financially.

However, revamping administrative practices has changed the economic climate of the service, Stephens said.

Where it used to be the bills weren’t sent out until two or three months after the ambulance run, “now it is a 24-hour billing service,” he said. “Lawrence County has suffered more financial issues than SEOEMS and they have been able to make it through. We have seen much more difficult times financially and we are doing much better.”

Athens pulling out comes weeks after all three counties advanced a total of $385,000 into the district. Athens and Lawrence each put in $154,000 with Jackson putting in $77,000.

That was to cover June and July PERS payments, health insurance for July and August and payroll for periods ending July 16 and July 30.

The counties are to be reimbursed from the funds the ambulance service would receive from the sale of its six communication towers after it switches to the more economical MARCS system, used by the Ohio State Highway Patrol.

That sale could potentially bring in $1.7 million to the ambulance service district.

With the MARCS system the ambulance service would no longer need the tower sites, eliminating maintenance costs. The district would only have to pay a service fee, expected to be $20,000 less annually than what the district pays for tower maintenance.

“One of the things that may come out of this is doing the dispatching in Lawrence County for the ambulances,” Stephens said. “That is a real possibility.”

Should Jackson pull out, a committee made up of Stephens, Ironton Fire Chief Tom Runyon and Bruce Trent is already working on a contingency plan.

“I am not sure what (Jackson is) planning to do,” Stephens said. “They have some ideas. They have made no official action to withdraw from SEOEMS. We are putting together a contingency plan to make sure we take care of Lawrence County. The system is set up to break even, not to make money or store a lot of cash. It is designed to give as much service as possible.”