The Monroe County Board has entered preliminary discussions with a hospital owner about operating the county’s ambulance service.
During its meeting Monday morning, the board announced that the Monroe County Ambulance Service has agreed to a confidentiality agreement with Community Health Systems (CHSPSC LLC). This arrangement opens discussion between the two sides toward considering a potential take over of the county’s emergency medical service under a private operator.
County Board Chairman Terry Liefer said the board has been discussing ways to enhance the county’s emergency medical service for years. He said that under this potential arrangement, those with major trauma and life-threatening injuries would still be transported across the river to hospitals in St. Louis. But he believes bringing in a private company like CHSPSC LLC would provide 24-hour service that has been lacking in the county, at a lower cost and possibly including construction of a new building needed for local emergency medical service.
“We would be able to get another level of service and we could get an emergency center,” Liefer said. “Along those same lines, perhaps they can do it for less cost than what we’re doing it for now because they’re a large group.”
However, hundreds of citizens oppose the potential move. About 1,300 citizens have signed a petition in opposition and have presented it before the board.
Paramedic Nick Hoeffken is one of them. The lifelong county resident is one of the county’s 10 full-time paramedics, where he has worked for more than a decade. He said that he and his co-workers fear losing their jobs under a privatized arrangement, but he is more concerned that this potential shift would also decrease the level of ambulance service that has been provided throughout the county.
“The residents of Monroe County will be the most affected by this,” Hoeffkin said. “I’m not doing this to save my job. I’m against this because it would be decreasing the service to the community. You just can’t replace the type of service provided right now to the community.”
Liefer said the change would only be the operator and not in the level of service. He said he believes this shift in operation would also provide current employees a chance to work under the new operator.
“If they were to take over ambulance service, my opinion is that everything will remain the same,” he said. “The only thing that we will see being different is who they get paid from.”
Liefer said the talks between the county and CHSPSC LLC is preliminary and did not specify a timetable for the new arrangement.
Liefer also referred questions about CHSPSC LLC to Tyler Buchheit, director of marketing at the Red Bud hospital.
Buchheit declined to comment Monday.
Contact reporter Will Buss at email@example.com or 618-239-2526.