(07/27/2019)
By David Hedges, Publisher
www.thetimesrecord.net

The Roane County Emergency Squad has entered into a contract with Roane General Hospital to manage the local ambulance service, according to the Times Record/Roane County.

The hospital is currently advertising for a director of operations, who will be paid by the hospital to oversee the ambulance operations.

"That person will have the depth and breadth of the hospital to help them with their duties," Doug Bentz, Roane General CEO, said.

Bentz, a longtime member of the Roane County Emergency Squad board of directors, said the RCES has been operating at a near break-even point, but needed to take steps toward maintaining viability in the increasingly complicated world of health care.

"We're not in a crisis mode, but we're not financially healthy," Bentz said of the ambulance service. "We felt the hospital had the resources in areas like HR, billing, legal matters and strategic planning to assist the ambulance service."

The RCES operates as a non-profit entity with the assistance of the Roane County Commission.

Bentz said in many ways the ambulance service would continue to operate as it has in the past, but with oversight from the hospital.

For instance, he said the ambulance would continue to do its own billing, but the hospital's billing department would conduct a review.

"We're not looking at taking over the business, but we'll do a billing assessment and make some recommendations," he said.

The ambulance and hospital staff also could collaborate on training, Bentz added.

He said the primary emphasis will be maintaining and expanding service.

"Our hope is to provide more available and more reliable services to the community," he said.

There is currently a statewide shortage of paramedics and EMTs, which has sometimes caused the ambulance service to be able to staff only two ambulances per shift, instead of three.

Transporting patients to larger hospitals for specialized services has also put a drain on the service.

"When we send an ambulance to Morgantown, it's gone for seven hours," Bentz said.

"We've been running three crews part of the time, and other times two crews. It's inconsistent," Bentz said.

"One of our first goals is to maintain three ambulance availability for the community."

For several years the hospital has provided more than $100.000 a year to help staff a third ambulance that. when in operation, is stationed at the hospital. Bentz said that assistance would continue and possibly increase.

Bentz, who served as chairman of the RCES board of directors. stepped down from the board to avoid any conflict of interest.

The new chair is Melissa Gilbert. the county's OES and 911 director. Other board members include Walton firefighter Chris Collins, who is also a paid firefighter in St. Albans. retired Baltimore firefighter Richard Nash. Spencer city council member Steve Hughes, Roane County Commission President Merlin Shamblin and Julie Carr, Roane General's chief clinical officer.

Danny Cronin stepped down as RCES director of operations earlier this year. but continues to work as a paramedic.

Bentz said Cronin would remain with the ambulance service and focus on education and staff development.

"He'll be part of our leadership team." Bentz said.

The hospital is currently accepting applications for the director's position.


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