Washington County Commissioners agreed to move forward with a new air ambulance service provider at their meeting today (Tuesday), although not unanimously.
Commissioners voted 3-1 to enter into a three-year agreement with Louisiana-based Metro Aviation, beginning June 1st. Commissioner Joy Fuchs voted against the measure.
EMS Director Kevin Deramus said Metro was chosen based on four major factors, those being “commitment to safety, quality and customer service,” “caps on price escalation,” a “strong equity position” and a “commitment to minimizing aircraft downtime.”
Deramus said a primary change from the county’s current agreement with REACH Air Medical Services, which will terminate on June 27th, is that the county will receive all revenue from insurance providers.
Fuchs said her concern lies with the amount that the county will have to pay Metro on a month-by-month basis, versus the fact that expenses under the county’s previous agreement were reimbursed by REACH. According to the agreement, the county will pay Metro a fixed monthly sum of $170,883 for “the provision, maintenance and operation of the aircraft,” plus a per hour flight time fee of $1,200. She said there are a lot of unknowns and is not certain whether the money from insurance will be enough to cover the program. She added, however, that she hopes she is wrong and that the agreement ends up being beneficial.
Deramus said the county does have a 90-day out clause in case expenses from the new agreement prove to be too expensive.
Commissioner Candice Bullock said the county evaluated best- and worst-case scenarios based on current data, which indicates a trend of growth and rising medical calls year over year. She said at the end of the day, regardless of if “worst-case scenario numbers” come true, this program will still save hundreds of constituents tens of thousands of dollars from their medical provider.
Currently, Metro operates over 140 aircraft and over 40 medical bases in the country. Deramus said the county has visited two of Metro’s programs in Texas, those being Cooks Children’s Transport and the University of Texas at Tyler.
Deramus said the goal of Washington County’s air medical program has been to move to a “traditional model” where the county employs the medical personnel, while the company provides the pilots and flight crew. According to Deramus, REACH desired to have nurses remain as REACH employees during the program’s initial build-out, eventually desiring both nurses and paramedics, where the program currently sits.
The new agreement will also allow the county to perform its own agency billing for operations as a government taxing entity, giving it the ability to waive co-pays for air transports as it does for ground EMS patients, while also meaning the county would no longer have to pay a subscription fee to AirMedCare Network. Deramus said the county outsourced billing for ground EMS in 2006, and is currently serviced by a company named EMS|MC. The company presently collects over $2.7 million in revenue annually for Washington County EMS on the ground, and has experience billing for air.
(Editor's note: A copy of the aircraft operating agreement as included with the meeting's agenda packet was previously linked in the article, but has been removed at the request of EMS Director Kevin Deramus on the behalf of Metro Aviation, citing the presence of proprietary information within the contract.)
Also at today's meeting, commissioners:
- Purchased recording software from NICE for E-911 to include installation, training and the first year of maintenance funded through a line item transfer. The purchase is for $21,728, with an additional cost of $7,355 for each of the next four years for maintenance.
- Approved a right of way permit application for the Blue Bell Fun Run/Run for the Youth of Washington County, taking place April 2nd.
- Rejected the transfer of a 2012 Ford F-150 from Engineering and Development Services to EMS, due to incorrect wording on the meeting agenda. Deramus explained that the agenda says the truck is being transferred to EMS, but is actually meant for the Office of Emergency Management.
- Proclaimed April 24th to May 1st as Soil and Water Stewardship Week.
- Approved a formal notice from Magnolia Oil & Gas Operating, LLC for a gas line, oil and water line road bore on Moye Road in Precinct 4.
- Approved a 60 day extension of 20.5 excess vacation hours for Peggy Diggs with the district clerk’s office.