Clairfield residents apparently want a clear-cut answer to the lack of emergency ambulance services to their isolated area. Several of those residents attended the Claiborne Commission meeting last week to address the issue.
Doug Campbell, attorney for Covenant Health Systems, detailed recommendations made by the Claiborne Medical Center advisory board during its special-called meeting on Aug. 9. Campbell said it was decided that the Claiborne Emergency Services (EMS) make contact with adjacent counties to explore a reciprocal agreement.
“The discussions at the meeting were to find another provider that is closer in proximity of the county, who can be in that vicinity sooner than the (Claiborne Ambulance Service). It is not possible, given the resources available, to put an ambulance on the site – from the standpoint of the staffing and (finances),” said Campbell.
Commissioner James Hatmaker, who represents the Clairfield area, asked who would be responsible for subsidizing another county for the service.
Campbell said the plan is still in its early stages. It must still be determined, he said, whether other counties have the capacity to handle the extra load and just what that cost would be.
“Were you all not aware, when you took over the Claiborne Ambulance Service, there was a station in Clairfield? To me, you are shirking your obligations,” said Hatmaker. “I’m going to work with you, but don’t come back to this commission looking for a bunch of money, simply for the reason we’re in a financial bind now.
“Once the escrow account is gone, this thing continues on. The only way we can fund that (the ambulance service) is taxpayers’ dollars,” he added.
Campbell said he felt Covenant and the Claiborne Medical Center had complied with all aspects of the original agreement.
Hatmaker said he did not want the matter to be “dragged out” for a year.
“This issue is not going to go away,” he said.
Hatmaker then addressed recent emergencies that occurred in the Clairfield area.
“We have a thousand people there that deserve the same treatment – they are Claiborne County people. And when you come up here and say ‘we’re going to do something with Campbell County’ – that’s not Campbell County’s problem,” said Hatmaker.
He then referred to the reportedly millions of dollars in revenues generated via the Clairfield coal severance taxes.
“Nobody here has ever refused that. If the money had not been spent, as it came in over the years since back in the ‘70s – had it been put in a trust account, Claiborne County might be debt free today,” said Hatmaker.
Matthew Goodman, director of the Claiborne EMS, was asked to address whether the Clairfield Substation was ‘open’ at the time Covenant contracted with the county for the hospital.
“To answer your question, it was a station when Covenant took over. Was it manned, consistently? No, it was not,” said Goodman.
According to county attorney James Estep III, Claiborne E-911 records show the Clairfield Substation was indeed active at the time of the agreement.
At one time, an ambulance ‘truck’ was apparently stationed in Clairfield. Whenever Harrogate or the lower areas of the county experienced high emergency volume, Goodman said that vehicle was pulled to those scenes.
Goodman said the county has an ongoing mutual aid agreement with surrounding counties. Some of the Clairfield residents disagreed, insisting those needing emergency care were forced to find personal transport to the Campbell County line before EMS personnel in that county would pick them up and carry them on to the nearest hospital.
Hatmaker reminded those present that, by law, emergency service must be provided ‘in a timely manner.’ In the last year, Claiborne E-911 recorded an average 52 minutes response time from the moment the emergency call came into the department until arrival time on scene in Clairfield, according to Roger Hager, E-911 director.
Goodman said the ambulance service was hindered during some calls due to ice and snow covering the road leading over Fonde Mountain. In some instances, help never arrived, according to Clairfield residents.
“I traveled for 35 years over that mountain and never missed a shift at work because of weather,” said Hatmaker.
Commissioner Bill Johnson suggested possibly alleviating some of the problem by creating an emergency heliport or by cross-training a Sheriff’s Department officer for EMS duty.
“Instead of being single-mindedly focused on one thing, let’s think outside the box,” said Johnson.
After a bit more discussion, Hatmaker asked that the commission hold Covenant to a time limit for rendering a solution.
“I feel that Covenant is trying to wiggle out of their contract. I think they’re here to get every dollar they can from Claiborne County, and they’re a not-for-profit organization.
“You know, they’re operating on tight shoestrings, if they think what they’re going to send to Clairfield is going to put them out of business. They need to give that ambulance service up,” said Hatmaker.
The full commission unanimously approved a motion, made by commissioner Dan Longworth and seconded by commissioner Shawn Peters, to require an update report from Claiborne Medical Center officials during the regular October meeting of the commission.
Reach Jan Runions at 423-254-5588 or on Twitter @scribeCP.