Surry County Emergency Services Chief Eric Southern brought the issue before the Surry County Board of Commissioners at its meeting Tuesday evening. He asked the board to consider eliminating fees charged for non-emergency EMS assistance calls but his request was put forward until more information is available.

These calls for help vary greatly, he said, and while most are requests for assistance with mobility or falls, they also receive calls for assistance with medical equipment, and are even called to remove a bat from someone’s home. What the ambulance crew might be asked to do “depends on the specific call that comes in,” he said.

Currently EMS will make two trips to a residence, but on that third call and every subsequent call, they charge $75, Southern said. “We need to look at this whole thing and see whether or not we need to continue this policy,” he told the board.

For those who are billed for frequent trips, Southern said only about 35 percent of those trips are collected, “Based on the collection rate on this, we’re really not collecting, and we have a citizen who’s not calling 911 when they actually need us.” “.

He told the story of a resident who needed home health care but had trouble finding it, so they made several calls to 911 for help. “Before they got the bill, we were there five times, and suddenly they got several bills at once.”

She ended by saying, “Well, I wouldn’t call 911 even if I had an emergency.” This is not what we want. “We want them to call us, and we don’t want them to feel like we’re going to win them over every time they need something,” Southern said.

“We’ve caught some people who really need our services who don’t have any other help, and they’re getting fees for it that they can’t pay. I really feel like we’re going to have some people who need us who won’t call us for that very reason.”

He said there was abuse of the 911 system around the time 15 years ago when the charges were set. “We were getting a lot of 911 abuse calls and going 4 to 6 times a day just to do anything. At the time I was still in the ambulance,” he said. And I can remember one particular call where I went to a residence four times in 24 hours.

Commissioner Van Tucker noted that in 2015 there were 111 assistance calls, and in 2022 the number rose to 774. The rate of these calls has risen so dramatically over the years that volunteer fire departments and rescue teams have stopped responding to them. I stopped getting those calls and we did have non-emergency calls that were on hold for a while and then EMS was sent. Over the years, it has moved on to where EMS responds.

Commissioner Larry Johnson asked if there could be better coordination to prevent multiple resources from being dispatched to a help call, “I’d hate for everyone to rush to the same call in a non-emergency situation. Maybe this person can wait another minute until we figure it out.”

The board has been reticent about removing the fees altogether, suggesting that the increased number of help calls would only rise faster if there were no recurring call fees.

Commissioner Mark Marion The person who called the racket stated, “If you eliminate the fee, people will know they won’t have to pay anything, and you’ll get 1,500 calls instead of 751. So, I’ll” I’d love to see some ideas and some comparisons.

The council requested that the matter be returned to the south and the province for further investigation. Chief Harris indicated that he had concerns that the County was sending bills at all for these calls for assistance with no consistent policy.

“Until we have a policy…what we’ve been doing consistently, we’ll continue until we have a policy,” District Attorney Ed Woltz advised. “Knowing what other districts are doing would be really helpful or maybe having some conversations with the public school would be appropriate.”

In other council news,

– Surry County Chief Building Inspector Keith Kiger and his team were honored by the Board of Directors Tuesday evening with Chief Harris saying, “We are grateful for Keith’s service and accomplishments with Surry County. We enjoy working with Keith he brings a breath of fresh air to the inspection department and we appreciate what he does.

The Board of Directors commended Kiger for receiving the President’s Choice Award by the Association of Building Inspectors, “for contributing your time preparing and presenting at conferences, helping to advance knowledge and consistency across North Carolina.” They noted his service on a variety of committees and as district director for the North Carolina Building Inspectors Association.

The county and its citizens are “grateful to have a highly qualified lead building inspector,” the commendation said.

“It’s a great honor, but I couldn’t do it without this crew… We have a great crew, and I couldn’t do this job without them. I’m very proud of where we are and where we’re going,” Kiger said, making sure to thank his wife.

He also thanked the board and district administration for “supporting us.” “It is not an easy task, but we are doing our best to keep the public safe.”

– The Board’s decision at its most recent meeting to end the vehicle leasing program and cease all purchases and leases of county vehicles is already taking effect. Surry County Procurement Agent Miranda Jones sent a recommendation to the board to take the 2017 Ford Explorer back from the county’s surplus list and add it back to EMS service.

“Since we will not be replacing any vehicles during fiscal year 2024, this vehicle will be needed for training purposes and response needs,” she advised commissioners who approved the request to remove the vehicle from surplus.

– The board was informed that Austin Love, president of the Mountain Park Rescue Squad, has asked the county to approve the reallocation of investment funds to Surry. The rescue squad has been allocated $17,902 out of more than $2 million awarded to local nonprofit groups.

Of this allotment, they spent $8,951 to purchase land for a new building and hoped to use the remainder to cover the cost of that new building but the costs proved prohibitive at this time.

Therefore, they are asking that the remaining $8,951 be reallocated to the cost of a 15-foot training platform or the installation of a raceway on the land to make it more accessible for community and training purposes. The board was informed that this reallocation would still adhere to Invest in Surry guidelines and be compliant with state regulations.

“I’m familiar with that piece of property and to be able to access it, it’s a good location…. But there’s a little problem with highway access there, so I’d be willing to let them do that,” said Chief Harris. The council agreed and approved the measure. .

– The Board made several reappointments Tuesday evening including reappointing Monty Venable, Philip Snow and Doug Cook to new four-year terms on the Northern Regional Hospital Board of Trustees.

Barbara Long, Drew Nolen, J. Wade White Jr. and Commissioner Larry Johnson were all reappointed to three-year terms on the Surry County Board of Health.

Finally, Commissioner Larry Johnson announced during his statements that he will not run for re-election, “I will not seek a third term as county commissioner.” I have spoken with my family and others and decided that two terms would be sufficient for me, so tonight I will officially announce that I will not seek a third term as Surry County Commissioner representing Mount Airy.

“I know it takes about three months for people to actually sign up, so I thought I’d give them plenty of time to make the call whether they like this easy job or not,” he joked, adding: “It’s just two months of ‘monthly meetings’ to keep council members entertained.” Management others.

Board Chairman Eddie Harris offered his thanks, saying, “We are grateful for your service and the time you have here;

“I still have some time to go, but sign-up time is December, so I thought I’d go ahead so everyone who’s been waiting for me can make it official: I’ve made it official,” Johnson replied.

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