May 22, 2018 10:14:23 AM
Oktibbeha County supervisors are bracing for the impact of two ambulance services operating in the county following a grave warning Monday morning from Rural Fire Services training officer Austin Check.
Check, speaking at the supervisors' recess meeting, roasted Starkville aldermen's decision to contract with Ruston, Louisiana-based Pafford EMS, a private company, for ambulance calls in the city limits. The move would relegate OCH Regional Medical Center's ambulance service to respond only to calls in rural Oktibbeha County.
Not only did Check offer skepticism of Pafford, he told supervisors he fears it's not feasible for both services to survive in Oktibbeha County long-term.
"I'll be completely honest, I've never been a big fan of private ambulance service," Check said. "I've had nothing but bad experiences.
"At the end of the day this county, I'm telling y'all, is not big enough to support two ambulance services," he later added. "It might go on for a while, but eventually one of them is going to get out of the game. I don't see how, financially, this county can support two ambulance services. The revenue stream is not there."
He further warned it's "very difficult" to recreate a public service once it goes away.
Starkville aldermen approved a contract with Pafford last week at their board meeting. The contract is contingent on Pafford accepting terms the city wishes to include to add certain liability protections.
Should the contract be approved, the city is aiming to create an emergency medical service district, contiguous with the municipal boundaries, that will allow ambulances to dispatch from Starkville Fire Department fire stations. The city hopes to have the new district operational by Aug. 1.
Pafford would respond to medical calls in the city limits, while OCH would still handle calls at Mississippi State University, in the county outside of Starkville and transfers from OCH to other facilities.
It's not yet fully clear what impact the decision will have on OCH, and the hospital's board of trustees is expected to discuss the issue further at a meeting Tuesday afternoon.
Check said county volunteer firefighters respond to medical calls, as do firefighters in the city.
Oktibbeha County pays $200,000 per year, in money obtained through state grants, to help support OCH's ambulance service.
District 3 Supervisor Marvell Howard said he does believe the county needs to be more active in trying to discern how Pafford coming to Starkville will impact OCH.
"I think everybody's just kind of been like I am -- just watching what's going on, reading what's been written in the papers and stuff like that," Howard said. "Actually, I've been a little concerned about why we haven't been involved in this conversation going forward. I just think, if for nothing else but to know what impact it's going to have, we need to do some sort of due diligence."
District 1 Supervisor John Montgomery said the county will reach out to hospital leaders to try to get a better feel on the expected impact.
"That's exactly what we'll do -- get up with the parties that be -- get with OCH's ambulance service and see how this changes, effects, helps, hurts," he said. "See what it does to the business model and just the response in general and the area in general. Just see how it impacts them overall."
Water shuttle exercise
Check also said the county volunteer fire departments will conduct a water shuttle exercise near Sturgis on Wednesday.
The exercise, which is conducted for the purposes of grading the Oktibbeha County District Four Fire Protection Grading District, is expected to begin around 9:30 a.m.
Because of the test, the intersection of Pleasant Ridge Road and Sturgis-West Point Road will be closed, along with all public roadways within 500 feet of the site. The test is expected to conclude by 11:30 a.m.
In other business, supervisors took under advisement a counter-offer from the owner of the former Mississippi Department of Health Region IV office on Lynn Lane. The board approved a $1.5 million offer for the building, which the Starkville-Oktibbeha Consolidated School District is eyeing as a potential administrative office location, at the May 7 meeting.
On Monday, attorney Johnny Moore, who represents the building's owner, said his client was making a final offer of $1.9 million. The building has previously been appraised for more than $2.2 million.
Supervisors will make a final decision on the offer at a later date.
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