Greene County Emergency Medical Services issues report showing need for new ambulances, equipment, staffing and better facilities

Mayor Hattie Samuels of Boligee (center) presents $5,000 donation to the members of the Greene County Emergency Medical Services Board. L to R, Rodney Wesley, Ardelia Colvin, Samuels, Joe L. Powell and Dr. Marcia Pugh.

By John Zippert, Co-Publisher
Zac Bolding, Acting Director of the Greene County Emergency Medical Services (GEMS Inc.), presented a detailed written report to the Board of Directors on the status of ambulance and other emergency medical services in the county, at their most recent meeting last week. The Greene County Democrat was provided with a copy of the report.

The GEMS Board consists of seven members, two appointed by the County Commission (Joe L. Powell, Chairperson and Dr. Marcia Pugh, Vice Chair); two appointed by the City of Eutaw (Rodney Wesley, John Hahn) and one each from the three municipalities in the county: Town of Boligee (Walter Staples), Town of Union (Ardelia Colvin) and Town of Forkland (David Craig – appointment pending Commission approval).

The current GEMS Board, which was appointed last year, came into a situation where the staffing was in turmoil and the equipment outdated. Two long term employees, Bennie Abrams and Stanley Lucious retired in 2020. Nick Wilson, was selected by the prior board, on the recommendation of Abrams, to be the director.

When the new board appointed by the Commission and municipal officials, took office in 2021, they were unable to find clear records of past operations, financial statements and board minutes. The new director was not cooperative with the new board and soon left after a family leave of absence. The new GEMS Board designated Zac Bolding, ranking staff member, as Acting Director and began a search for a new director.

In his report, Bolding explains that GEMS first priority is to provide a paramedic staffed ambulance 24/7 for the people in Greene County. The second priority is to provide pre-scheduled repetitive EMS transports for qualified persons to dialysis, wound care, cancer care and other medical services. This also includes hospital – to – hospital transfers for Greene County Hospital patients needing additional specialized care. When staffing and equipment allows, the service can also respond to emergencies in neighboring counties.

The report indicates that the GEMS possess five ambulance vehicles and a car, all but one of which are over ten years old and have significant mileage beyond their expected safe and reliable service life. At the time of the report, the one late model (2018) ambulance was out of service due to repairs. This vehicle has since been repaired and is functioning with over 140,000 service miles.

The Greene County Commission in its most recent meeting approved an allocation of $150,000 to remount and refurbish the ambulance box from one of GEMS old models on a new Ford F-450 Diesel Chassis. This new ambulance remount is back ordered and will not be delivered until July 2022.
The company is considering providing a loaner model until the new remounted ambulance is delivered.

The GEMS Acting Director in his report indicates a need for at least one more new ambulance and equipment costing in the range of $150,000 to $200,000 to have a fully operational ambulance service. There is also a need for a better facility with bathroom, kitchen and shower facilities for staff, who work 24-hour shifts. The system also needs to update its billing practices and qualify for higher reimbursement rates.

The GEMS Board invited the four mayors of participating Greene County municipalities to its most recent meeting to ask for their financial support toward a second ambulance and medical/communications equipment to upgrade the emergency service for all Greene County residents. The Board asked municipalities to make a contribution from their American Rescue Act funding allocations.

Mayor Hattie Samuels of Boligee presented the Board with a $5,000 check towards its goal and said more was coming. Mayor Latasha Johnson of Eutaw said that the city had already contributed $70,000 of CARES Act funds for major life saving equipment and would consider additional support for the ambulance. Mayor James Gaines of Union said we would consult with his city council about the request. Mayor Charlie McAlpine of Forkland encouraged the GEMS Board to look for government grant funding and said that his city would help with matching funds.

The report also includes a financial section showing that for the first nine months of 2021, the GEMS received $473,173 in operating income and spent $464,484 in operating expenses. The operating account had a balance forwarded of $93,195 at the end of September 2021. No list of outstanding accounts payable or actual audited statements were provided.

The operating bank account in Merchants and Farmers Bank, is one that the new Board does not yet directly control. The Board is working through some details with the bank to claim control of this account and designate appropriate signatories from the new board to replace the old check signers. The new GEMS Board has a separate bank account for funds that they have received for grants and donations since the beginning of the year.

The Democrat will continue to follow development of the Greene County EMS and report on the status and improvements. While Greene County has the smallest population in the state, it covers a large rural area of 660 square miles of area. The people of Greene County need and deserve a state-of-the-art ambulance service that can transport them to the hospital when they have an emergency.

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