LUMBERTON — The company hired by Robeson County this week to provide convalescent ambulance transportation services for county residents is facing financial problems, according to a Hoke County newspaper.
The News-Journal last week reported that MED1 recently asked the Hoke County Board of Commissioners for additional funding to help with some of the company’s unpaid bills. MED1 currently provides primary 911 service and convalescent transport services in Hoke County.
“If it is true that MED1 is definitely having financial problems, I think we should re-examine our decision,” Robeson County Commissioner David Edge said Friday.
Tom Bryant, head of operations for MED1, could not be reached Friday for comment.
Contacted by The Robesonian on Friday, county Commissioner Raymond Cummings appeared unconcerned about the company’s financial standing.
“Times are hard for everybody,” he said. “We based our decision to hire MED1 on their proposals to provide ambulance service to the county.”
On Monday, the commissioners approved a two-year contract with MED1 to provide non-emergency convalescent ambulance services. The only other company offering a proposal to provide the service was American Medical Response, a national company that has held an exclusive contract with the county for 13 years.
MED1 is a fairly new company that has been operating in Hoke County for about a year. According to Greg Bounds, director of Emergency Medical Services in Robeson County, MED1 also provides ambulance services in Georgia and South Carolina.
“We will miss partnering with AMR, but we are looking forward to our future partnership with MED1,” Bounds said.
Ricky Harris, Robeson County’s interim manager, said that the county and MED1 have not negotiated what the franchise fee will be, but Harris said it will probably be between $50,000 and $70,000. AMR paid Robeson County a franchise fee of less than $10,000, Harris said.
Although only one commissioner, Noah Woods, voted against a contract with MED1, two other commissioners this week told The Robesonian that they would have rather stayed with AMR, a company they said had a proven track record.
Commissioner Hubert Sealey, whose original motion to renew AMR’s contract for three years died for a lack of a second, said he finally agreed to a two-year contract with MED1 because the majority of other commissioners would not agree to a contract of less than two years.
“AMR has done an outstanding job. They have been here and proven themselves,” he said. “As long as I’ve been a commissioner I have never seen this board not renew the contract of someone who is doing a good job.”
Edge also said he would have preferred to renew AMR’s contract.
“I really didn’t want MED1, but I had spoken with other commissioners and knew that there were at least five votes for the company,” he said. “I knew there was nothing I could do so I voted with the others as a sign of unity.”
Cummings strongly defended the board’s position to hire MED1.
“We based our decision on the proposals the two companies presented,” he said. “MED1’s proposal was better. It was more thought out and presented more detailed information. It was a very detailed and more organized report.”
Cummings acknowledged that AMR “did a pretty good job” for the county. He said there were some complaints about how the company operated, but nothing serious or unusual.
Brad Chase, general manager for AMR’s North Carolina operations, told The Robesonian that his company had employed 42 people in Robeson County. He said he expects about 35 of these employees will be picked up by MED1.
Chase said that he still cannot understand how the commissioners could choose MED1 over his more experienced and larger company. He said that AMR nationwide works with close to 2,500 clients and employs 18,000 EMTs and paramedics.
“We have been here 13 years and are a national $3.3 billion company,” he said. “I know that some people are afraid of a larger company, but we are bigger only because of being made up of lots of smaller companies.”
Chase said that not only will area residents employed by AMR be hurt by the county’s decision to switch ambulance providers, but the local vendors AMR used to purchase supplies and help conduct business will suffer.
Chase also said that in his company’s proposal to the county, AMR promised to “match or exceed” any service offered by MED1.
“I spoke with five of the eight commissioners about our proposal and they all said that AMR had done a good job for the county,” Chase said. “The only three commissioners who would not sit down with me and discuss our proposal were Commissioner Cummings, Commissioner (Jerry) Stephens, and Commissioner (Roger) Oxendine.
Both companies made their official presentations to the commissioners in February. At that time MED1 was represented by Donna Collins, who started Robeson County’s first convalescent ambulance service in the early 1990s and ran it out of her home for six years before the company was purchased by AMR. Collins told the commissioners that although MED1 is smaller than AMR, it can provide the variety of services needed in Robeson County.
“We are not the biggest company, but bigger is not always better, ” Collins said. “… We will be involved in the community and we will have diversity.”
— Reach staff writer Bob Shiles at 910-272-6117 or firstname.lastname@example.org