Local emergency medical services took center stage Tuesday at the Montgomery County Council meeting.
S.T.A.R. Ambulance Service, the county’s only private ambulance provider, recently announced it will cease emergency runs as of March 1. The company, which has been operating under a 31-year-old contract with Montgomery County, has made the decision to stop responding to emergency calls and will only continue as a patient transfer operation.
Per the contract, either party can pull out by issuing a letter of intent 60 days before canceling the service. Scott Township and the Town of New Market also received letters of intent. Presently, S.T.A.R. makes emergency runs to Coal Creek, Madison and Wayne townships.
S.T.A.R owner and director Matt Peck said in a phone interview after the meeting the decision to cease emergency runs in the county was difficult. His father, Sam Peck, started the business which will celebrate its 40th anniversary April 1.
“We have been doing this work in Montgomery County for 40 years,” Peck said. “I discussed it with my family and it was not an easy decision to make because we are Montgomery County people. This is our home.”
Peck first heard the county was considering changing how EMS services operated in the county in a recent Journal Review article. He said the story indicated the county was already in negotiations with the City of Crawfordsville to perform county-wide emergency services.
“I was insulted when I read the Journal Review story,” Peck said. “We have provided emergency service for 40 years and have never asked anyone for money. We have operated on a user-fee basis only.”
Crawfordsville has contracts with Sugar Creek, Walnut, Clark, Brown and Ripley townships, but Crawfordsville Mayor Todd Barton said he does not know how much longer the city can serve the outlying areas.”
Barton told the county council that the condition of emergency ambulance services is changing. The city has EMS services contracted with Sugar Creek, Franklin, Walnut, Clark and Brown townships. Each township pays an annual amount to the city and users pay a fee as well. He said changes to the present system the city is offering will be forthcoming. He promised the council the city EMS will serve the whole county. But, he wanted them to realize that means a lot more expenses for the city and that he would be coming to the council for help to fund the service.
“We will help you get through 2022,” Barton said. “But, we will need (financial) help from you.”
“I have been sounding the alarm for several years that this day would come,” Barton said. “Running a 911 service is a money losing proposition. Beginning in 2023, we will no longer be able to serve the six townships we serve without more money.”
The council has heard the alarm and contacted the consultant firm of Ritter Strategic Services for a study on the EMS situation. The study will include gathering information from stake holders such as townships, citizens and present and EMS providers. They also will look at EMS data and asset requirements for sub-stations in a county-wide EMS system. The study will include staffing requirements and an estimate of operating budgets for three possibilities. The options include a city-run county-wide EMS, a county-run EMS or a private firm county-wide EMS. The report is due back by early April.
Council president Tom Mellish believes the report is warranted so the council can make a better decision on how to move forward.
It was noted that every contingent county to Montgomery County already has county-wide EMS services.
“This study will be important to help us develop a plan that is best for our citizens,” Mellish said. “I want to talk with Matt Peck and get information from him.”
Peck indicated he would like the opportunity to discuss the matter with council members and he was disappointed that he was not notified that EMS was an agenda item at Tuesday’s meeting.
“I found out Monday night at 11 p.m. that the council was going to talk about all of this,” Peck said. “I already had appointments and just figured the county did not want to talk to me.”
Peck agreed EMS service is a national topic and the COVID-19 pandemic has made it tougher. However, he said with the addition of three new paramedics last week, he is staffed well for the moment.
Peck also said, like Barton, S.T.A.R. will continue to help when needed after March 1.
“We are not going to let someone die because an ambulance cannot get there,” Peck said. “We are willing to help when we are needed. That is how we have done business in the county for 40 years.”
Barton said the city is willing to conduct first responder classes for any fire departments in the county to help get through the year.
Peck said his company will continue the transfer service between nursing homes and hospitals beyond April 1.
Council member Mark Smith said the final decision and result has to be made to benefit county residents.
“One of our primary duties of government is to meet the needs of people,” Smith said. “People in the county need to feel comfortable that they will be serviced within a reasonable amount of time. This study will give us the information we need.”
Many township trustees, firefighters, EMTs and other interested parties attended Tuesday’s meeting.
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