By Lon Anderson
The Hardy County Commission’s long-running debate over the proper functions of the Hardy County Emergency Ambulance Authority (HCEAA) came to an abrupt end at the Commission’s monthly meeting on February 4. On a two-to-one vote, the Commissioners stripped the HCEAA of its fee billing and collections functions to “bring them back to the Courthouse.”
After four months of wrangling over with no action, County Commission President Harold Michael said, it was time to take action. Commissioner Jay Fansler then made a motion to bring the collections operations for the Ambulance Authority back to the Court House. Michael seconded the motion.
“I still think there are other options I would like to see us explore until at least June (end of the fiscal year),” Commissioner David Workman said.
“Customer service is the biggest thing for me—to give better service,” Fansler said, explaining why he was supporting the move.
“I thought Dave (Commissioner Workman) was supposed to research this and get back to you,” noted Fran Welton, Chair of the Local Emergency Planning Committee.
Workman replied that he did. “I sent an email out with my plan and heard nothing back, so I assumed they didn’t agree.”
“So you’re moving everything back to the Courthouse?” Welton asked Michaels.
“The ambulance service was not created to collect fees but to provide service. The bottom-line is we need to put it back the way it was,” Michael said.
“Where will it be?” Welton asked.
“Right here in this office,” Michael said.
“Then I think you ought to dissolve the ambulance service,” said the Office of Emergency Management and 911 Director Paul Lewis.
“Later,” said Michael. “I think we can save a lot of money. It’s not worked out and has cost us two to three times what I think it should,” Michael explained.
“So collections—anything having to do with the fees?” asked Derek Alt, HCEAA Emergency Director.
“And investigations and everything?” Lewis asked.
“Yes, we’ve put an ad in the paper,” Michael noted.
“That’s putting the cart in front of the horse,” Workman retorted. “I was not aware of this until it was pointed out to me.”
“It’s not really the cart before the horse,” Michael responded. “We’ve talked about it for four months, how much longer do we need?”
Michael explained that early on “the ambulance Authority entered into a contract with a less than reputable person and then all this fee money got outside the County’s control. So almost from the get-go I’ve been concerned, so let’s start over and get back to where we started.”
With that, they took the vote and changed the HCEAA structure, starting in March.
In his monthly report to the Commissioners, Lewis reported that:
• The 911 Call Center’s Computer Aided Dispatch system is currently three upgrades behind and the total cost to upgrade is around $59,000, and the upgrades are scheduled for this month (February)
• The Call Center is advertising for part-time 911 dispatchers and will shortly lose another full- time dispatcher.
• In January the Center handled a total of 810 calls: DNR had 31 calls; Sheriff’s office 254; Moorefield Police 342, and State Police 59 calls.
• For EMS, Fraley had 106, HCEAA 84, Wardensville 26, and Capon Springs assisted with 5.
Reporting on HCEAA calls, Alt indicated that there were 82 alerts in January and 53 transports—”our highest to date.”
Michael then asked Alt about why the current HCEAA collection costs, reported at $16,240, were so high.
The billings are outsourced to a contractor, Alt explained, and cost about $2 per letter and 8,000 bills were mailed.
The Commission then approved a request for a budget drawdown for $65,000 for the HCEAA.
In her report to the Board, Welton noted that because a new Red Cross representative for the region has been named, they will be able to continue the County’s smoke alarm installation program. Last year some 60 units were installed, she reported.
Welton also requested a $500 budget allocation for new training videos and materials for the County’s Community Emergency Response Team (CERT), which the Commission approved.
Next up before the Commission was Tom Mathias representing Love Memorial Clinic in Moorefield, with a report and a request for assistance. The clinic, he explained is a non-profit that is technically owned by 10 local organizations whose representatives make up the Clinic’s board of directors.
The clinic, which has been operating for about 45 years, had over 13,000 patient “encounters” last year, or a little over 1,000 per month on average, Mathias said.
The clinic, he indicated, now faces a significant challenge and “we’re hoping you might be able to help us.” The clinic’s mammogram equipment must be replaced; the certifying agency says it’s worn out and it will no longer certify the equipment to operate.
New mammogram equipment costs about $80,000, according to Welton, who noted they can no longer get parts for the old equipment. “We’re fortunate that we’ve been able to get used equipment in the past,” Welton said.
“Have you considered applying for grants?” Michael asked. “Rose (Helmick) is good at finding them and handling the stacks of paperwork.”
“There maybe some federal money out there—maybe (U.S. Senator) Shelley Capito can help us,” Michael continued. “A lot of times, it’s just a matter of