Rift between county, Rescue continues

Jun. 04, 2014 @ 10:06 AM

The fracas between Rutherford County Rescue and county officials seems to be widening with the county’s budget now in the crosshairs.

The latest issue stems from language in the county’s $56 million budget that includes a requirement that county subsidized organizations like Rutherford County Rescue and Hickory Nut Gorge Rescue sign contracts with the county before receiving any county allotments.

Rutherford County Rescue Chief Allen Emory issued a 5-page letter to County Commissioners prior to the budget public hearing outlining the issues Rescue had with the county’s new policy.

“Our organization has been a viable part of this community for 56 years,” Emory said. “We feel like the county wants us to go backwards.”

He added by suggesting Rutherford County Manager Carl Classen “wants to close down the Rescue.”

The back story

The situation began in 2013 when Emory said Rutherford County EMS was “taking calls away” from Rescue crews, thus taking potential revenue away from the squad. In November, Emory said lower-level emergency calls — known as Alpha and Bravo — were reverted back to EMS after being told by the county those calls would be assigned to Rescue crews.

As a result, the Volunteer Life Saving and Rescue squad ceased operations and merged with Rutherford County Rescue.

However, in a response letter, county officials said the decision to remove those calls from Rescue was done at the behest of the county Medical Director and that changes in the medical protocol “are the sole responsibility of the Medical Director” because rescue squads operate under the Medical Director’s medical license.

County officials also pointed out “several instances” where medical reviews were not completed by Rutherford County Rescue.

Additionally, Emory claimed the county has tried to give the Hickory Nut Gorge Rescue “half of our district” which has led to a loss of nearly $100,000 in revenue. In its response, the county said a meeting was called between all parties but an email dated Dec. 17, 2013 indicated Emory did not want to participate in any further meetings.

Emory said in one day, Hickory Nut Gorge responded to 24 medical calls in Rutherford County Rescue’s territory however, county officials responded by saying that particular day had a “high volume of discharges from the hospital” and that the average is “around five daily transports.”

“Calls are given to both rescue squads and are dependent on the individual rescue squad’s availability and how high their volume has been that day,” the county’s response said.

According to county numbers, since February 2014, Hickory Nut Gorge Rescue has responded to 196 convalescent calls while Rutherford County Rescue has responded to 185.

“We just want to serve and work with EMS and that’s it, in a nutshell,” Emory said.


Contract issues

The county allocated $43,000 to Rutherford County Rescue and $97,000 to Hickory Nut Gorge Rescue but Emory said Rutherford County Rescue never signed a contract last year.

“That contract would have been used against us to take call volume away from us,” Emory said.

The contract requires the rescue squads provide a certificate of insurance which names the county as an additional insured party. The county response said rescue squads fall under the county’s System Plan and “it is likely that the county would be named in a claim against a rescue squad” which is the rationale to having the county named as an insured party under the rescue squad insurance.

The contract also states that if the amount of funding is not agreed upon, the contract can be terminated “without any advanced notice.”

Emory said the contract would also force Rutherford County Rescue to terminate its contracts with Hospice and Davita Dialysis because a provision in the contract states that any contract between Rescue and a third party “shall not be in competition” with the county or county EMS.

The county responded to this by saying the current structure for convalescent calls is that they all come to Rutherford County EMS unless EMS crews are already dispatched to other calls, at which point the calls are dispatched to the rescue crews.

“This allows for medical oversight and coordination, since the State OEMS (Office of Emergency Medical Services) has named Rutherford County EMS the primary medical provider,” the county said.

As for terminating its contract with Davita, the county said it has never threatened termination of services but did establish a liaison between Davita and the county because of the large number of transports and to establish “better communication and support between the agencies.”


What’s next?

During talks with the county in 2013, Rutherford County Rescue employed Richard Vinroot, a Charlotte attorney who specializes in civil anti-trust cases but Emory contends the intent of Rescue is not to sue the county.

Emory said Rutherford County Rescue has staffed “no less than” 62 high school football games and paid part-time employees to cover those games.

“If we are still in business, we’ll do it again this year,” Emory said.

He said cuts to staffing due to a county rule that county employees could not work for Rutherford County Rescue because of potential violations with the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

The county said employees can volunteer for any of the rescue squads but the issue is that the FLSA does not allow county paramedics to also be paid by rescue squads. Emory said other counties allow the sharing of employees while the county said some EMS directors do not.

“We’ve cut all that we can cut and the only thing left is cutting service,” Emory said. “We’re just asking to be funded and allow us to do our job and provide a service to the citizens of Rutherford County.”