WENTWORTH - A major - and costly - overhaul of Rockingham County's EMS system is needed to address a chronic lack of ambulances, according to a report released Wednesday.
The report calls for adding of two advanced life support ambulances, which can be used for the most critically ill patients. It also calls for one additional basic life support ambulance.
The report recommends adding six paid emergency medical technician positions to local volunteer rescue squads. Those positions would operate on 12-hour shifts, five days a week. The report offers options on how to pay for this, including a 1-cent property tax within the rescue squad district.
What remains unclear is how much it would cost taxpayers to make the changes.
Rockingham County has six advanced life support ambulances and one basic life support ambulance. The ambulances often transport patients to and from hospitals and medical offices for a fee.
Emergency calls have increased in recent years. That's led to having one or no ambulances available multiple times a day.
The county's three rescue squads were included in the study because they are often called on when ambulances are tied up. Last fall, the squads asked the Rockingham County Board of Commissioners to establish a similar 1-cent tax increase .
The county gives $96,000 a year to the squads, which they split evenly. They also raise money through grants and fundraisers.
The squads estimate that with the $600,000 a year that a tax could raise, they could pay for six responders. But the squads can't perform advanced life support. And they rely on a network of volunteers, which can lengthen response times.
Steve Boles is the assistant chief with Madison Rescue Squad and the spokesman for rescue squads. He said most of the report's findings are what he and his group told the commissioners last fall. However, he disagrees with the idea the rescue squad should charge for services.
"We have to take issue with that," Boles said. "We don't have the muscle that the county does, the personnel, to collect."
The commissioners floated the idea of folding the rescue squads' billing in with their own EMS billing. Several commissioners seem set on seeing something done this coming budget year to address the EMS and rescue squad issues, including Commissioner Craig Travis , who has branded himself a fiscal conservative. "I'm optimistic we'll be able to do at least one ambulance this year," he said.
But facing a budget year expected to be among the worst in generations, not every commissioner is as optimistic.
"I'd love to have more ambulances, but you just don't have the money for it," Commissioner Tommy Flynt said.
County Manager Tom Robinson told the commissioners he hopes to have final recommendations for them to discuss and possible vote on by next month.