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County Paramedics Breathe Sigh of Relief as Privatization Plan Fizzles

One private EMS company estimated the county could save up to $800,000 annually by privatizing the county service.

by Larry Hobbs, The Brunswick News, Ga. / November 11, 2015

(TNS) - Glynn County Finance Committee members were all business Tuesday at the Harold Pate Building in dismissing a plan to privatize the county’s emergency medical services as a cost-saving measure.

But the proceedings were a little more dramatic for James Owenby, a Glynn County paramedic who witnessed the proceedings while bottle-feeding his toddler daughter Isabella. Owenby has been nervous about his future since May, when the Glynn County Commission first instructed county manager Alan Ours to study the prospects of contracting EMS service to a private company.

In the end, Ours determined that any potential cost savings the measure might attain would be offset by the drop in the level of both fire and EMS service to the county.

Owenby looked visibly relieved when the committee voted unanimously to drop the issue rather than recommend going out to bid with private EMS providers for a cost estimate.

“I’m very relieved,” Owenby said. “We’ve got a home here. My family’s here. Everybody was real scared.”

One private EMS company estimated the county could save up to $800,000 annually by privatizing the county service. It would also be the private EMS contractor’s responsibility to collect for unpaid ambulance rides and other EMS medical fees, of which the county is now owed an estimated $1.5 million.

The matter of privatizing EMS will still go before the county commission for discussion at the Nov. 19 meeting. But it will go there without the support of either the finance committee or the county manager.

Owenby’s uniform told the story of why these officials think it is a bad idea. His arm patch identifies him as a paramedic, but his name tag assigns him the title firefighter.

All paramedics and emergency medical technicians within the county fire department are trained as firefighters first. Responding to a fire with a fire truck and an ambulance means everyone who arrives on the scene is trained to fight fires. Losing all its paramedics and EMTs would mean having about 14 less firefighters on duty per shift.

More firefighters would have to be hired to bring the department up to efficient staffing, meaning a possible raise in the county millage rate for fire protection services, Ours concluded.

Additionally, property insurance rates could go up because of a negative shift in the county’s ranking with the nonprofit Insurance Office Service, a nationally recognized standard for establishing those rates.

“We’re talking about looking at insurance going up for everybody and then having to hire more firefighters to bring those rates down,” said county commissioner and finance committee member Mark Stambaugh. “I don’t see it happening at this point.”

County commissioner and fellow committee member Richard Strickland agreed.

“I don’t think in any way we should compromise safety for the few dollars we will save,” said Strickland.

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©2015 The Brunswick News (Brunswick, Ga.)

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