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City approves EMS funding agreement, transfer plan

In two votes, the Winchester Board of Commissioners finalized a way to handle non-emergency transfers and a revised funding agreement with Clark County.

For much of the last year, a committee of city and county officials has been meeting to explore the situation with Winchester Fire-EMS and Clark Regional Medical Center.

Tuesday, the city commissioners approved an agreement with Breathitt-Wolfe EMS to provide non-emergency transfers to other facilities from Clark Regional Medical Center. Breathitt-Wolfe officials said they will keep an ambulance and crew in Winchester to handle those calls. If Breathitt-Wolfe is unavailable to take a transfer, the call would go to Winchester Fire-EMS. If they can’t, the hospital will call other services around the region until someone can take the call.

Winchester Fire-EMS will still respond to all emergency calls in Clark County.

The commissioners also approved a revised inter-local agreement with the Clark County Fiscal Court for EMS funding. The previous agreement called for the county to cover 45 percent of any EMS budget deficits, with the city covering the remaining 55 percent. Under the new agreement for fiscal year 2021, the county’s contribution would be capped at $450,000.

Commissioner Shannon Cox was the most vocal opponent of the Breathitt-Wolfe agreement for the level of care, and not having the choice to request to be transported by a Winchester ambulance.

“It scares me to think this could be me or someone else with people who can’t describe their training,” Cox said, citing an incident from the 1990s where an athletic trainer had to show an EMS crew how to package a patient for transport.

“They were barely a BLS (basic life support) service then,” Winchester Fire-EMS Chief Cathy Rigney said. “If quality of care comes into question, I think me and (interim City Manager Mike Flynn) will have a discussion with them.”

Rigney said patients don’t have the choice now to request who transports them, or where they are transferred or treated.

Hospital officials told commissioners in the past they have spent up to an hour calling ambulance services to find an ambulance to take a non-emergency transfer, and have used helicopters more as ambulances are not available.

Rigney also said her department can not take every transfer from the hospital.

Commissioner JoEllen Reed, who served on the committee, said CRMC officials told her they were pleased with Breathitt-Wolfe’s service.

The Breathitt-Wolfe agreement was approved unanimously, though Cox voted against the revised inter-local agreement.

“I’m just concerned about the load the people in the city will bear when the county says in March, ‘We’ve paid our $450,000 and that’s all we’re going to pay,’” Cox said.

Winchester Mayor Ed Burtner said the agreement calls for the city and county to negotiate again my March 2021.

“One of the best things from this exercise is we had a discussion with the county,” he said.

The agreements, Burtner said, were only intended to deal with a couple of issues facing EMS. There are still staffing issues and a reduction in revenue from this year.

Flynn said he was planning to meet with EMS staff Wednesday to discuss other options, including possibly splitting EMS from the city fire department to stand alone.

“We’ve got some real meat on the table for making this two departments,” he said. “We think we can come up with a strategy to bring to you. We’re not ignoring the issue. What we want to do is bring something to the board that’s reasonable … and can be approved.”

About Fred Petke

Fred Petke is a reporter for The Winchester Sun. His beats include cops, courts, fire, public records, city and county government and other news. To contact Fred, email fred.petke@winchestersun.com or call 859-759-0051.

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