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March 3, 2016 • Headline News
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Ripley County leaders agree to keep EMS contracts

Mary Mattingly

On Monday, Feb. 29, Ripley County Commissioners unanimously rescinded the Feb. 1 motion to end contracts with the three area life squads. Gary Stutler, president of the commissioners, opened a special Monday evening commissioner’s meeting by making that announcement. Typically, the commissioners meet twice a month on Monday mornings, but some citizens have trouble attending those meetings due to work schedules; so, they agreed to hold an evening meeting because of the rescue squad issue.

It was a full house at the annex building with many of the EMTs and rescue squad members attending to hear the fate of their service and express their thoughts or ask questions. The issue has been at the forefront when the commissioners voted to terminate the contracts. Stutler also announced that Scott Huffman has been hired as the new EMS director, replacing Jim Corbin who suddenly resigned earlier this month.

Scott Huffman
Scott Huffman, pictured left, was approved by the county commissioners as the new EMS director for the county.

Huffman was in attendance and introduced himself, although many knew him from his work as a paramedic and when he was with the county as EMS director for eight years.“I have talked to all of the squad members, and came up with a concensus to look at a long term solution,” he said, and stressed that, “No one person can solve these problems.” With that in mind, they have agreed an EMS advisory board will be recreated with two members from each squad plus a hospital representative, council member and commissioner. The committee, most of whom were in attendance at this meeting, includes: Keith Sieverding and Charley Cozart, both with Rescue 69; David Voss and Mike Alloway, both of Rescue 30; Dave Lattire and Dan Smith of Rescue 20; and Rescue 10 is Todd Schutte and Brian Hardeback; and Tim Putnam, CEO / President of Margaret Mary Health. Also on the committee, are Scott Huffman and Mike Sieverding, representing the county EMS; and from council Brenda Wetzler and Ed Armbrecht, and commissioner Mark Busching.

Citizens were given the opportunity to speak, and Paul Hildebrand, board member of Milan Rescue 30, was the first. “What is the status of our contract? Our contract was to be null and void on July 31…How can you say it was voided two weeks ago, and then rescinded? It doesn’t work that way if we say we’re going to void the contract for us.” Stutler then responded: “You came in three times to a commissioner’s meeting and told us that you were going to go belly up in two weeks;” to which Hildebrand replied: “We were asking for help with the billing company, but we didn’t tell you we would bail out of the contract, but we were just running out of money. “ Hildebrand was reassured the committee would work together on a contract. He wasn’t blaming the commissioners, but said they had been given bad advice. “I know there is a limited amount of money…but make sure you do not leave anyone out of this,” he commented. Stutler reminded him that’s why they hired Huffman and formed a new committee, adding: “It’s a new ball game tonight as far as we’re concerned. And it’s not going to happen overnight.”

A few other citizens and squad members brought up concerns with billing and how the service started. The county EMS service started in 2004. The county owns the two ambulances for the inter-facility hospital transfers from Margaret Mary Health. Jeff Poole of Milan referred to some financial data: $196,000 was budgeted for the four squads from the riverboat funds but over $800,000 was spent to run the county’s EMS service (911 and paramedics) and the inter-facility transfers; of that, about $336,000 was collected. County Attorney John Ertel replied that Medicare and Medicaid will take their cut, and it often ends up that squads get just 30 to 40 percent of the initial bill. However, Poole asked, “Is that (county EMS service) a business we should be in?” Auditor Bill Wagner acknowledged that is something they are addressing. They are also investigating why their revenue is lower than in the past, but it could be due to the billing company transfer.

After the meeting Wagner told Ripley Publishing the 911 side of the budget for 2016 is $628,323, and the inter-facility transfer budget is $758,086. They always budget for a worst case scenario, and again, it’s not necessarily money spent. Tom Poole, a former EMT and father to Jeff Poole, also questioned the finances and the county running a private ambulance service. “Nobody has approached the people to ask what they want,” he said. “How are we going to get out of the ambulance service?” noting the return on investment seems to be about half of the expenditure. “I don’t understand why we are up here at the hospital hauling people around,” he said. Huffman gave some history on how they got into the transport service with the hospital. It was to help provide additional revenue as gaming funds were not stable, and to get more medics in the county. That operation started in 2013. Timing of receipts to the county also plays into it, not knowing when they’ll get the riverboat funds or the cash flow from billing.

Billing woes
Some of the problem was attributed to the county’s new billing contractor. Upon recommendation of the former EMS director, the county changed the billing company in 2015, and the cash flow for claims and the transition between the new and old company, was longer than before. Keith Sieverding, president of Ripley County Rescue 69, said there were three months of building up the Medicount revenue stream. “It’s a complicated problem,” he said, and added, “$198,000 is not enough to keep it solvent.” He noted Tom Poole brought up good points on why funding is being completed by variable income.

Rick Stevens of Milan’s Rescue 30 addressed their payments for unit runs. A basic run is $750, but if it’s Medicare or Medicaid they get $321 plus mileage, and a $50 paramedic fee. If a paramedic is involved, it’s $1,300, but all insurance criteria and codes must be met before they could recover funds. If it goes to collections, we still have to pay, he added. The billing company makes three attempts to collect payment from an individual, and if no response, it goes to the collection agency, according to Wagner. Stevens said he’d like to see the commissioners, the county attorney and Huffman request the billing company representatives to explain why they are writing off and adjusting some bills. It was mentioned that Milan’s squad wasn’t notified of $25,000 not being collected.

Dan Smith, Sunman Rescue 20, said after they conducted some of their own auditing and found 17 runs were missed in June by the billing company, with a total of 30 for the year, and that puts them behind $20,000. They are more diligent with auditing and find there have been no problems in January. (They had 485 calls last year. )

Jeff Poole learned the county does not audit the squads’ records, even though they give money to the units. “But that’s something council will be asking for in the future, “ Stutler commented.

By the end of the 45 minute meeting, the feeling seemed to be one of communication, openness and willingness to work together. It was also stressed this is not something that will happen overnight; it could be a year or longer. The commissioners were thanked for addressing and attempting to correct the county contracts. “We have a new beginning tonight,” Stutler commented

Local Bulletin Board

Candidate list sign-ups begin

Ripley Publishing Company, Inc. will be running a continuous candidate listing beginning March 15. For $125 your name along with the office you are running for will appear in both newspapers through the May Primary Election. In addition, you will receive a free press release along with a photo in one of the newspapers. The press release must be submitted to our office along with a photo. Arrangements can be made to have a photo taken in our office. Please call 812-689-6364 or email us at or stop by our office at 115 S Washington Street in Versailles to get your name on the list.

Deadline to sign up: March 18
Art classes to be offered at Versailles State Park in April
Art classes will be open to the public of all ages, and include photography, birdhouse painting, watercolors, woodworking, recycled art, mixed media art, and beginning guitar. More information is available in section B, page 5 of The Versailles Republican dated March 3.

Deadline: April 1, 2016

Sheriff scholarships announced
Ripley Co. Sheriff Jeff Cumberworth announced that Indiana Sheriff’s Association would again be awarding college scholarships to qualified high school seniors or college students who are pursuing a degree in criminal justice. For details pick up a copy of The Versailles Republican dated February 11 and read page 3.

Deadline: April 4, 2016
SEIRD announces student scholarship
The Southeastern Indiana Recycling District (SEIRD) is pleased to announce the 2015 - 2016 “Students Making an Environmental Difference Scholarship” for graduating high school seniors. For details pick up a copy of The Versailles Republican dated February 11 and read pg. 2.

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