HCFR proposes franchising private sector for big events - WMBFNews.com, Myrtle Beach/Florence SC, Weather

HCFR proposes franchising private sector for big events

HORRY COUNTY, SC (WMBF) - Horry County Fire Rescue has proposed franchising private ambulance companies as part of the department's efforts to keep you safe during big events and emergencies.

In late January, Chief Fred Crosby presented the proposal at a public safety meeting. Here's how this would work: for the private ambulance companies to do business in the county they would need to promise to be on call to help Horry County Fire Rescue whenever they needed it. The private companies would also need to pay the county $1,000 to franchise plus $100 per ambulance in its fleet.

Chief Crosby stated at the public safety meeting that for many of the county's big events, it's all hands on deck, and the large majority of their crews are stationed across the Intracoastal Waterway towards the beach, leaving some inland areas high and dry in the case of an emergency. The chief says this franchise proposal would provide necessary help to make sure all territories are covered.

Chief Crosby says franchising would also help keep these private companies accountable on safety standards. The private crews would be required to meet the standards and qualifications that county emergency workers must meet. Chief Crosby says this will guarantee anyone the same level of service and care no matter which crew would arrive to your emergency.

During high-call times, big emergencies, and busy events, Horry County Fire Rescue Battalion Chief Brian VanAernam says their ambulance crews are strapped, and that requires the department to pay their employees more overtime pay. Chief Crosby is anticipating that by franchising, the department would be able to cut down on overtime costs while still guaranteeing quality service. The chief says this would not cost tax payers a dime.

But some council members are concerned with the proposal. Councilman Marion Foxworth and Councilman Bob Grabowski acknowledge something needs to be done to boost the ambulance manpower. But they worry this required franchise would be too heavy-handed. Councilman Grabowski says that forcing a private company to help the county in public safety without much incentive is not fair. He points out that some of these private ambulance companies may be very content transporting non-emergency patients to hospitals. Taking on the risk of emergency transports and patients not paying the bill, might not seem worth it in the private companies' eyes.

Councilman Foxworth and Grabowski want to make sure a few things are taken into consideration in this next proposal. They want to make sure it's very clear that these companies would have to charge patients the same rate as the county does whenever they make a run. This would only be for when the company makes a run at the county's request.

Also, Councilman Grabowski says he wants to make sure the proposal would require the private companies to be responsible for billing patients. If for any reason the county would have to take the time and effort in doing the billing, Councilman Grabowski is concerned the taxpayer will end up paying for it.

While it is a big incentive for these private companies to pick up the extra revenue, the companies will also need to be aware that if the individual or the insurance company refuses to pay the bill, the company will then be out that money. That's how it works for the county as well. Visitors and tourists not paying their ambulance bills account for millions of dollars in lost revenue in the Grand Strand and Pee Dee every year.

Councilman Foxworth recommended the chief contact private ambulance companies in the area to gauge the interest and create a few more options to consider, including a voluntary program, test pilot program, or a community workshop on the topic. Chief Crosby is working on new options, ideas, and proposals. This topic will be discussed in some form at the next public safety meeting on February 23.

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