The Calhoun Commission learned that one or more audits of Calhoun County Emergency Medical Services are moving forward by Calhoun EMS Director Josh Johnson and Minnie Hamilton Health System CEO Steve Whited.

The audits come after Calhoun Commission president Kevin Helmick called the ambulance service "a house of cards," related to financial stability, with problems meeting payroll or having credit for gasoline.

EMS officials have said the concerns are only political on part of the commissioners.

One audit is being conducted by the state office of Emergency Medical Services, according to Director Johnson, and another audit will likely be conducted by the WV-HCA through a grant proposal submitted by MHHS-CEO Whited with approval of the commission.

That grant for an audit of the local EMS is for $50,000, and will not cost county taxpayers.

The state EMS review is "a completely independent review," said Johnson, with the audits being a basis for decisions regarding ambulance service being provided for Calhoun citizens.

"We have collaborated with Calhoun EMS, although there have been bumps in the road," said Whited.

The audits will likely be completed in 6-7 weeks.

Johnson, meanwhile, has proposed to the EMS board to change the by-laws of the agency. Those suggested changes would allow the EMS board to select their own members, removing the agency from any control of the county, essentially privatizing the service.

During a commission meeting earlier this year, Johnson told the commission his agency did not have to be accountable to the commission, during an effort Calhoun EMS was making to establish a sub-station in Wirt County.

Commissioner Weaver challenged Johnson on his position, saying "I [Weaver] represent the taxpayers and citizens of Calhoun County...county taxpayers support a levy to finance the ambulance operation."

Weaver further said, "The county [taxpayers] approves levy money for operations, owns your ambulances, the building you operate in, pays your insurance costs, loaned you money and has given you money for operations," adamantly saying the county does have a vested interest.

"I can't understand why you are here, telling the commission the taxpayers have nothing in this," Weaver said.

While the Calhoun Commission has been raising concerns about EMS problems for two years, the agency is saying the issue is all about politics.

During a September meeting, commissioner Chip Westfall called the money problems "a crisis situation," saying the commission is responsible to see that ambulance service is provided to citizens.

Commission President Helmick, who also serves on the ambulance board, said the EMS's stability continues to deteriorate, often unable to pay bills with laboring debt and two ambulances that currently need $10,000 in repairs to make them operable.

Helmick said, "We have reached a point where we need to look at options. There have been times when meeting payroll has been on the edge, and the agencies credit to get gasoline has been cut off."

"The situation is worsening for them to stay afloat," he said.

CEO Steve Whited of Minnie Hamilton Health System told commissioners that MHHS is willing to provide the service, with a major plus being that MHHS gets reimbursed 100% for calls from Medicaid and Medicare, related to their status as a rural healthcare provider.

Calhoun EMS is reimbursed at a much smaller rate.

That alone would make county ambulance service financially more viable, said Helmick, with MHHS agreeing with the commission to maintain a sub-station in southern Calhoun.

MHHS said they will offer employment to current Calhoun EMS staffers. Calhoun EMS has experienced a severe turnover of EMT's and drivers during the past two years.

Also MHHS would provide higher base wages and benefits for EMS employees. Now they have no benefits.

Whited told the commission that after a time, MHHS might not need county taxpayer money to keep the service going.

"My primary concern is to make sure the future of Calhoun County EMS is financially stable and that both ends of the county is equally covered and properly staffed at all times," said Helmick. EMS Lt. Sabrina May told state media, "This is what it boils down to. It's politics, it has nothing to do with finances."

Commissioners, after reviewing an audit in 2010 that showed EMS over $40,000 in the red, EMS director Johnson agreed to provide the commission with monthly financial statements.

Director Johnson admitted he had failed to do so.

See related story CO. COMMISSION DEALING WITH AMBULANCE ISSUES - Calhoun EMS Denies Financial Problems Saying "It's Just Politics"

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