After a long-debated conflict, a decision from the Bibb County E911 board spurred North Bibb’s independent emergency medical services (EMS) transport to release a statement (seen below in its entirety) saying they will no longer be dispatched to medical calls unless AmServ doesn’t have a unit in the area. North Bibb communities erupted with outrage. We set out to find out why any of this happened, and what really did happen, anyway?
In a previous iteration as West Alabama Emergency Services, Green Pond’s EMS used to transport patients. Financial issues several years ago shut down the ambulance service, which came back on duty under the Green Pond Fire and Rescue (GPFR) label in February of 2019, after they could not reach an agreement with AmServ to provide a full-time ambulance to the north end of the county. “We even offered to run it with our people, but they didn’t like that idea,” GPFR Chief Chase Laney said.
“We’re not against working together with anybody, and that includes AmServ. They have good people that care. But, I think when it comes to providing a public service for a community, then all services should be willing to work together. When you don’t, it’s detrimental to the community. … We want to do what’s best for the community. That’s our one and only goal.” — Chief Laney, GPFR
According to Chief Laney, Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) regulations state that if a call comes in within their area and they are dispatched, they must respond. As a result, and because of the conflict with AmServ, the Bibb E911 board decided that as of August 16th, the GPFR EMS transport truck will not be dispatched except to fires, wrecks, or if there is no AmServ unit in the area at the time of the call.
Some municipalities around the county have service contracts with AmServ, but according to Chief Laney, the county itself does not have a contract. The County Commission does regularly pay thousands of dollars per month to AmServ for billed services, however.
What exactly is causing the rift here? We asked Bibb County E911 Board Member, Kevin Lawrence how the decision to no longer dispatch to GPFR came about.
“Green Pond [Fire & Rescue] is misinforming citizens,” Lawrence said. If AmServ has a truck [in the area], then they’ll only dispatch to [AmServ] for medical, but if they’re not at their north base, they dispatch to Green Pond [Fire and Rescue].”
Lawrence said AmServ already had one unit in the north end when GPFR began their service. Laney said they began their service because of long response times from AmServ to calls in the north end, when there was often not a unit in the area. Bibb’s E911 board found out GPFR was transporting patients in February via word of mouth “just like everyone else,” Lawrence said.
So, now we have two units up north. AmServ keeping an ambulance at a north base means two ambulances cover the north end, with only one in Centreville to cover the rest of the county, from Brent to Randolph and everything else, according to Lawrence.
He stated that the decision to selectively dispatch was made at the advisement of the state office of EMS, which the E911 board contacted to make sure they were following regulations. “We had a racing situation before, with wasted resources and a dangerous travel situation,” Lawrence said of having both services competing to get to the patient first, so that they would get the payday.
Aye, there’s the rub. The payday.
To be sure, even though serving the public EMS is a business that must be maintained by funding, typically via revenues from providing services. For AmServ, it’s business as usual, or it was until the startup GPFR came to provide service to their own community, without a care – or really a source – for the money from it. But they still must pay for their own existence since no one else is.
So, is GPFR having an issue because they won’t be getting dispatched to as many transports to charge for, so that they can better pay their bills and upkeep on equipment? It seems so. Is AmServ having an issue for the exact same reason? It seems so.
“If an ambulance is paged by dispatch, they have to go, so the state advised we only page one or the other and not both. If the first one paged isn’t available, we page the other,” Lawrence continued, adding that the coverage goes both ways. The GPFR EMS license is good for all of Bibb county, and legally they must cover the whole county. “So, if AmServ has one unit let’s say transporting to DCH, and another transporting out of county to Birmingham or is otherwise on a call and absent from Centreville, [GPFR] could have to cover if call comes in and there’s no AmServ unit available. Even out to Randolph or Pondville or wherever. This affects the whole county.”
Attempts were made to reach AmServ representatives for comment but as yet we have received no response.
Will a relocated UAB West hospital have an impact on ambulance services to the north end of Bibb county?
“Long term, I don’t know what’s going to happen,” Chief Laney said, “But we want to keep it going as long as we can.” Laney cited financial concerns as the primary factor that could eventually shut down the availability of the department’s transport truck.
Besides the fact that EMS response times to some areas especially in the north end of the county have left residents frustrated and concerned, it seems that the entirety of the conflict centers around who is being paid for what. GPFR is concerned that if they don’t get enough money from providing services that they won’t be able to keep running. AmServ has the same issue, in fact. It’s not actually cheap to operate an ambulance service, it turns out.
If money was there to operate both services without competition between them, none of this would be an issue and Bibb would simply benefit from having multiple EMS transports available. The public generally benefits from competition between companies in a free market. It’s one of the basics of capitalism. What has happened, it appears, is that the governing body (E911 Board) has put a market control in place, reducing direct competition by causing the two EMS providers to compliment each other in the market, rather than compete. That’s not necessarily a bad thing for the citizens who are calling ambulances in Bibb County. It just makes it a fixed game for the competitors, and a game that GPFR is likely to lose due to reduced revenue.
Luckily, it thus far remains that Bibb has two EMS transport services available, for three total trucks. Hopefully, even with the selective dispatch situation as is, response times will be quicker in all areas. How long we continue to have three trucks, however, is anyone’s guess at this point.
E911 board members are not elected by the public, but are appointed by the County Commission. Members include Bibb County Sheriff’s Department Chief Deputy Kenneth Weems, Michael Murphy, Kevin Lawrence, Kenneth Harbison, Ken Fetzer, and Amy Elmore.
The full statement as released from Green Pond Fire and Rescue, posted on Facebook, is below: