A large crowd packed Bartow County Commissioner Steve Taylor's public hearing room Wednesday hoping to get answers about the proposed privatization of the county's Emergency Medical Services by Metro Atlanta, a Cobb County-based ambulance service.
"We are just citizens," said Tara Norman and Elizabeth Gregory, both of Cartersville. "But we have just heard so much false information in the social media and we just want to know the facts."
"As you know, Commissioner," County Administrator Peter Olson said, "we have been looking for some time as to whether we could continue operating the EMS services as a county service. These services have generated the loss of more than $7 million in the last five years — $13 million in the last 10 — and about $1 million so far this year. It has become an economic burden for the county.
"We have been approached for several years by multiple companies that said they would take it with no subsidy and, in reviewing all those proposals and meeting with stakeholders in the community like the hospital, we felt that Metro Atlanta was the best choice."
Olson said there had been some misinformation such as the idea that emergency vehicles would be dispatched from Cobb County.
"The calls will be dispatched from their 911 communication center in Cobb, but the ambulances will be stationed here, just like they are now." he said. "They are contracting to provide better response times — about four minutes quicker than what we are responding now based on our own data."
Another rumor being passed around was that current EMS employees would be fired, Olson said.
"All EMS employees will be offered a job at the same pay grade or higher," Olson said. "So every single EMS employee will be offered a job. Metro would like to take everybody because they need the staff."
The transition from Bartow County EMS to Metro Atlanta should take three or four months Olson said.
But Tim Holloway, of Adairsville, remained worried about the cost.
"Will the new company recognize all insurance plans and existing arrangements with area hospitals," he asked. "Say a patient wants to go to Redmond Hospital instead of Cartersville. How much per mile? Are you in network for Cigna, Blue Cross, all the insurers in the county?"
"We are in network with Blue," said Metro Atlanta CEO Pete Quinones. "And we are working with Cigna, United Healthcare and Kaiser. We are going to do everything we can."
Holloway countered that he still not seen a price list.
"A price list should have been the first discussion," he said. "OK, we save this on taxes, but we are paying this on costs. That's what I'm worried about."
Metro's costs tend to be about $100 higher than the county, Quinones answered.
Taylor said Bartow has kept a county-owned EMS much longer than other surrounding counties.
"We may have kept it a few years longer than we should have," he said. "It was the employee concerns rather than the community service concerns. That is the reason I kept several years longer than I should have. This has been a tough decision, mostly from the employee standpoint — we have great employees — and this was gut-wrenching from the employee standpoint, but I have to represent every citizen in Bartow County and that's what the people elected me to do So I am going to approve this agreement."
Taylor also approved the county taking over the lease of Camp Pine Acres, the former Girl Scout camp on Lake Allatoona.
"The Greater Atlanta Council owns three other camps," Olson said. "They were just leasing this one from the Corps of Engineers. But Corps policy calls for any leased site that is returned be demolished and returned to nature.
"They had invested more than $5 million in dining halls, cabins, and residences," Olson said. "So rather than see all that destroyed, we would take over the lease. People will be able to use the park for family gatherings or just for friends cooking out. The local girl scouts want to use it several times a year for jamborees and other organizations, like the Wounded Warrior Project, would like to hold some events. Even some movie studios have shown an interest in filming there."
In other business,Taylor:
• Approved receipt of a $20,995 grant after the state removed sales tax on jet fuel.
• Approved a $144,000 funding for Family Drug court.
• Approved a $27,000 Office of Justice grant grant to purchase backup weapons and ammunition for officers.
• Reappointed Vicki Tate and Richard Fox to the Planning Commission.
• Approved a grant totaling $241,086 from the DOT for placing security cameras in buses.