FAYETTEVILLE — Washington County officials on Tuesday approved a request for about $545,000 in emergency funding for Central Emergency Medical Services.
The Court of Quorum’s Finance and Budget Committee voted to recommend that the full Court of Quorum approve an order earmarking money for the ambulance service.
The Washington County Regional Ambulance Authority’s board of directors, which oversees the operation of central emergency medical services, voted Aug. 3 to ask authority members to provide $1,043,178 in additional funding. The total is split among members, with Washington County being asked to provide $545,140 and Fayetteville being asked to provide $357,454. The other cities’ share of the requested funding ranges from $28,655 for Farmington to $1,750 for Winslow. Springdale provides its own ambulance service.
The cities and county provide an annual subsidy to the ambulance service to help offset operating costs. The grant in 2021 was $1,578,689 and in 2022 the annual grant was $1,605,838.
According to Steve Harrison, head of Central EMS, the service has an annual budget of about $15 million, with the bulk of revenue coming from Medicare payments, private insurance and individuals who use the service. Harrison said income from all of those sources has declined with changes in Medicare and Medicaid and private insurance reimbursement rates and with an increase in the number of people struggling to pay for the service on their own.
Harrison said the covid pandemic had contributed to the problem, as had the recent spike in inflation and supply chain issues. Harrison said the service had “relief funds” in reserve, but that began to dwindle in 2020 and 2021. As the pandemic continued, he said, the service also began to see a higher turnover among its 125 employees, which in turn increased costs. through overtime. He said the ambulance service responds to between 450 and 500 calls a week.
Harrison said the cost of medical supplies has increased from 40% to 65%. The recent increase in fuel prices has also hit the service hard, with the fuel bill doubling from late 2020 to mid-2022.
District 13 Justice of the Peace Willie Leming said he thinks the county could eventually take the ambulance service “under our umbrella” to provide more certainty in funding.
“We can’t lose the ambulance service,” Leming said.
Justices of the peace postponed action on a proposed new pay plan for the county after most elected officials said they had concerns about how pay scales were set.
County Assessor Russell Hill said he was speaking for his office and for the circuit clerk, county clerk, tax collector and treasurer. Hill said he had an employee who had been in his office for less than two months who would be paid more under the new plan than another employee with six years of experience in the office.
“We’re still training that person, and the person who trains them will earn less,” Hill said. “This new structure is not fair. How can you justify paying more for someone who has been here less than two months than someone who has been here for six years?
Hill said elected officials were not involved in crafting the new compensation plan.
“It would have been great if we had been part of the process,” Hill said.
Also on Tuesday, the committee sent the county’s 2023 budget to the full Quorum Court for consideration. The quorum court is scheduled to meet at 6 p.m. Oct. 20 at the county courthouse.
Washington County Ambulance Service
The Washington County Regional Ambulance Authority is an interlocal governmental authority in Arkansas formed under Arkansas law to authorize cities and counties to enter into interlocal contracts to provide services such as emergency ambulance services and not urgent. The interlocal agreement covers ambulance service by and with Fayetteville, Washington County, Elkins, Farmington, Goshen, Greenland, Lincoln, Prairie Grove, West Fork, Winslow and Johnson. It also establishes the Ambulance Authority and Central Emergency Medical Services as the exclusive emergency and non-emergency ambulance service in cities.
Source: Washington County Regional Ambulance Authority