Medshore May Take over South Carolina’s Williamston EMS

A private ambulance service could begin responding to calls for emergency medical help in Williamston by the end of this month, officials said Wednesday.

Williamston Emergency Medical Services is in financial trouble. Allegations that former Williamston EMS Chief Joe Barr mishandled money became the subject of a preliminary investigation by the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division last month.

The status of that investigation is unclear. Barr, who resigned, said in a May 19 interview that he had not yet been contacted by SLED and a spokesman for the state’s top law enforcement agency did not have immediate details about the case’s status Wednesday. Barr could not be reached Wednesday.

What is clear is that Williamston EMS is struggling enough that the Anderson County Council stepped in, authorizing County Administrator Rusty Burns to execute a short-term contract with another ambulance provider.

Burns confirmed Wednesday that the county is negotiating with Medshore Ambulance Service on a one-year contract for the company to work in Williamston. He said he had talks with providers in Pelzer and Belton before choosing Medshore. Based in Anderson, Medshore is one of the largest ambulance providers in South Carolina, operating in multiple cities. Burns said Medshore would get $27,500 a month to provide two ambulances to Williamston for emergency medical calls, though no contract has yet been signed. Anderson County has been giving Williamston EMS about $20,000 more per month for that service.

Greg Shore, the chief executive officer of Medshore, said Wednesday that the company initially planned to start providing emergency medical services in Williamston on July 1.

“But then we found out that Williamston EMS only had enough money for one more payroll,” Shore said. “So it looks like we will step in early, on June 21.”

Shore said he plans to hire the 16 employees that are already at Williamston EMS.

While Williamston has a special case, its emergency medical services agency is not the only one in Anderson County that has had financial challenges.

Many of the county’s small rescue squads rely not on the urgent calls, but on the non-emergent calls for service to help them pay their bills. Now, those providers are affected by a rule Medicare imposed in December to help the federal health care insurance program keep down its costs. Ambulance services in South Carolina, Pennsylvania and New Jersey must get prior approval for patients seeking repetitive non-emergency transportation to dialysis clinics and other medical offices. The rule is a response to a dramatic, decade-long spike in trips to and from dialysis clinics that Medicare paid for in South Carolina and other states.

“It’s been an adjustment, dealing with the new rules,” said Dan Durham, the chairman of the board for the Pelzer Rescue Squad. “We’re still operating in the black, but your non-emergent transports can really help you in terms of being able to maintain your equipment and get what you need for the long term.”

Jacky Jackson, the director of Pendleton Emergency Medical Services, said the new Medicare rule was difficult for his crews in the first few months of this year.

“Things seem to have settled down some, but we are keeping a close eye on our finances,” he said. “We’re well above water and we’re thankful for that.”

Several other small emergency medical services providers in the county did not return messages Wednesday seeking comment.

Burns said Anderson County officials are keeping a close watch on county’s smaller rescue squads. The county pays Medshore and nonprofit rescue squads in Belton, Honea Path, Iva, Pelzer, Pendleton, Townville and Williamston a total of $4 million annually to handle emergency calls throughout the county.

“If you have a medical emergency, the county has made a commitment that there will be someone there to help you,” Burns said. “We will honor that, and to do that, we may have to look at new long-term strategies.”

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