HAMLET — Hamlet Fire and Rescue has been answering a lot calls for help with medical and injury-related emergencies — and some members of the city council aren’t too happy about that.
The lion’s share of the emergency calls were due to automobile accidents, illnesses, falls, respiratory crises and cardiac issues.
“Between 75 and 80 percent are EMS calls,” said City Manager Marcus Abernethy Friday. “It’s certainly a complex issue and I respect the concerned councilmen’s opinions just as I do the opinions of the rest of the council and the mayor.”
What makes the issue complex, Abernethy said, is that Hamlet EMS is a separate entity from the City of Hamlet.
“They are a nonprofit. So if Medicare, Medicaid or insurance were to bill an EMS call, the (Hamlet) EMS would get the revenue from that,” Abernethy said. “Hamlet EMS pays the city for half the salaries of the paramedics, but the paramedics are employees of the city. And it’s been that way since, I think, about the year 2000.”
Hamlet Fire Chief David Knight said that any controversy as to where that money goes can be laid to rest with an examination of his department’s annual report to the city manager, which shows spending for the year 2000 then skips ahead to cover years 2010-2014.
“I think the contention has been that when we go out as EMS, typically what the city has done is by the end of the fiscal year, we pay the city an agreed-upon amount of money,” Knight said. “But we also buy all of the equipment, supplies and materials associated with emergency medical services and rescue.”
Without wanting to speak for any councilman, Abernethy did offer one possible interpretation of concerns stated during the last meeting.
“I think he feels Hamlet is being double-taxed,” Abernethy said. “Because now FirstHealth EMS offers the same service for the whole county.”
Abernethy and Knight cited situations in which the response time to some EMS calls in Hamlet would have been increased up to five minutes if FirstHealth EMS had been called instead of Hamlet Fire and Rescue.
“That’s enough time to make a real difference in the outcome,” Knight said.
As to why Hamlet decided to structure its fire and EMS as it has done, Abernethy — who has been in his position since October —provided the most logical answer based on the information he has.
“We provide the services to our citizens that the council requests us to provide,” he said.
Knight highlighted some of the benefits Hamlet residents enjoy as a result of the arrangement.
“When you make one phone call to 911 in Hamlet, you get everything in one place,” he said. “Wrecks, EMS, fire, HAZMAT. All with a single call. We operate under FirstHealth protocols for emergencies but are able to more quickly respond to calls in our city.”
Concerning the fair distribution of revenues from EMS calls to Hamlet Fire and Rescue, Abernethy confirmed that the department pays its share.
“The EMS has always paid the city what it has requested they pay,” he said.
Reach reporter Melonie McLaurin at 910-817-2673 and follow her on Twitter @meloniemclaurin.