Matt Lasley | GC News-Gazette

Matt Lasley | GC News-Gazette

The Grayson County Fiscal Court voted to make an emergency purchase of two new ambulances for Grayson County EMS on Monday, March 5.

The decision came after Grayson County EMS Director Kevin Pharis presented his case for why the two trucks are so desparately needed.

Pharis said the last time a new ambulance was purchased was in 2008, and, recently, two ambulances' engines have blown and another has had electrical problems and been in and out of the body shop for several months.

He said that, of the six ambulances currently owned by Grayson County EMS - a privately owned entity that contracts with the Fiscal Court to be the official ambulance service for Grayson County - three are inoperable.

This, coupled with the many trips EMS must make to and from Louisville transporting patients from Twin Lakes Regional Medical Center pose significant risk that there will be a shortage of ambulances.

Additionally, Pharis said that, due to the Affordable Care Act, while most patients under the care of Grayson County EMS have insurance, they have such high deductibles that they cannot afford to make their payments, and EMS must treat patients regardless of their ability to pay.

EMS also does not receive many Medicaid payments to help cover the cost of service due to this either, he said.

"We are not making money now," Pharis said.

"You cannot continue to operate an ambulance service without ambulances," Pharis said.

Pharis requested that the Fiscal Court make an emergency purchase of two ambulances, at the cost of $125,576 each.

He said EMS would pay the cost of equipping them with new heart monitors, stretcher equipment, and having them striped and lettered.

6th District Magistrate Curtis Wells asked Pharis whether Grayson County EMS would be able to make do with one new ambulance, but Pharis said EMS "won't make it" with just one.

Pharis said EMS would take anything the Fiscal Court could give, but it needs two trucks.

3rd District Magistrate Brenda Huffman said she would have preferred that Pharis not wait until a "crisis" to request new ambulances, to which Pharis responded that EMS has come before the Fiscal Court prior to this and been told there was no money.

Pharis said he has invited every magistrate to visit the EMS office to see what they have, but none has done so, and he has also had to put his own money into Grayson County EMS for the past several months.

"You have neglected the ambulance service long enough," Pharis said.

Pharis said that every time Grayson County EMTs/paramedics leave in one of EMS's ambulances, they risk their lives not knowing whether the ambulance will break down on the side of the road during a run, "and I risk everything I have worked for."

"We have saved you all money, but you have worried yourself to death that I've taken all the money," said Pharis, adding that the Court should concern itself with every citizen of Grayson County equally.

The floor was then opened for magistrates to address the situation, and, Wells said, it "sounds pretty dire to me - not just now but for the future of the county."

Pharis said the county will have the same issue in three years and will need two more ambulances then, as well.

Judge/Executive Kevin Henderson said there is an issue with public perception regarding the ambulance service because it is not owned by county government, but, per Kentucky Revised Statute, the county must provide an ambulance service and, by contracting the service, the county saves on the cost of retirement for more than 30 EMS employees, as well as Pharis's current $1.5 million budget.

Henderson added that several other counties also contract with for-profit ambulance services.

Even if the county were to take over the ambulance service, it would still have to purchase the new trucks to provide the service, so, Pharis said that, by the county purchasing the two new trucks for Grayson County EMS, it would ultimately save the county money.

Huffman said she would like to see the county's contract with EMS updated, as the only one currently on file is from 1994 and has elements that benefit neither entity.

She would also like to see EMS get on a schedule to keep ambulances up and going.

Wells said that, after hearing Pharis's presentation, he does not believe that Grayson County EMS is at fault for the position it is in, and he believes the public will be supportive of the decision to purchase new ambulances to ensure Grayson Countians can receive that service when they need it.

He said that he does not believe there is an individual in Grayson County who, when calling for an ambulance, wants to hear that EMS cannot come due to lack of equipment.

"When it comes to life versus death, they want life," Wells said.

After Pharis's presentation, the Fiscal Court voted to approve the purchase of two new ambulances at the cost of $125,576 each and to finance them through a 3.77 percent lease with Magnolia Lease.

Henderson said this will equate to a monthly payment of around $4,500 total, or $2,255 for each ambulance, and an annual payment of around $50,000.

Additionally, the trucks will remain under the ownership of the Grayson County Fiscal Court.

Pharis said that, by making the emergency purchase, Grayson County EMS can be in possession of the new ambulances within 45 to 60 days, as opposed to more than four months through the bidding process, something for which EMS could not wait.

Pharis also requested approval to purchase the equipment for the new ambulances in the county's name, even though EMS will finance the purchase, and this request was approved by the Fiscal Court, as well.

The inoperable ambulances will be declared surplus and placed for sale at a later date.