The director of the Bradley County Emergency Medical Service gave an impassioned plea for an increase in funding during Thursday’s budget hearing before the County Commission’s finance committee.
Danny Lawson, EMS director, came before the committee to answer questions about his proposed budget for 2014-15 which requests an increase of $291,636 from the current fiscal year.
It is the largest dollar amount increase in the budget, but represents only a 5.81 percent increase — a figure in at the bottom of the top seven requested percentage increases.
Lawson is seeking to add a 24-hour crew on weekends, two new ambulances, four Lucas chest compression devices and uniforms.
The problem the department is facing is not seeing an increase in revenue as certain programs such as Medicare are not paying as they used to, according to Lawson. However, the department is seeing an increase in calls.
In summary, the department is having to provide more services without more funds.
One example is not having the weekend crew, which is an extra cost of $70,000.
“We frequently have to call in Polk or McMinn county or both to handle the calls [on weekend] if we’re tied up,” Lawson said. “It’s really not acceptable.”
The director told the committee that call volume has increased 161 percent since 2000.
“The ideal thing would be to ask for one full-time person and one part-time person [per ambulance], but the cheapest way is with part-time personnel and that’s what I’m asking for here,” Lawson said. “It’s enough to staff one extra ambulance on Saturday and Sunday.”
The chest compression devices are valuable, Lawson said, because they make it safer for paramedics and it provides a constant compression for patients while they are being moved.
“It does CPR without interruption and enables circulation to continue,” he said. “It has literally generated a pulse on every patient we’ve used it on,” he said.
The cost for four of the devices is $57,600.
Lawson said the reasoning for requesting the ambulances is he doesn’t feel comfortable “sending a patient on a truck that has 200,000 or 300,000 miles on it.”
“I worry about them breaking down and we have a patient that needs care, and not having an ambulance to respond,” he said.
He referred to Wednesday night’s accident in Cleveland where five EMS vehicles were on the scene.
“There are a lot of people in this community right now and the potential to max us out is great,” Lawson said. “It’s realistic and it happens too often, in my opinion. I’m trying to put you in our shoes. It’s real.”
He also says the department “literally does without most protective equipment, because we don’t have the money to buy it.”
Lawson defended the $20,000 amount for uniforms, which equals $200 per employee.
“We’ve only bought uniforms for those who had to have it,” he said. “My shoes are 3 years old and my belt is probably 10 years old.”
Lawson then put all his thoughts into one emotional plea.
“You can’t operate a professional service without uniforms. I can’t answer calls without trucks. I can’t saves lives without training and equipment,” he said.
Committee Chairman Ed Elkins said he understood the dilemma, “but at what point do you ask the public to subsidize? That’s what we’re going to have to struggle with.”
Commissioners also heard reports from the Election Commission, Justice Department and Assessment Office, but no major objections developed from those discussions.
Elkins said he was pleased the departments all appeared to have held to the desire to keep requests to a bare minimum.
“For the most part, all of the departments did what we asked them to do — hold the line in view of expected revenue,” Elkins said. “I really appreciate the departments cooperating with that. They’re doing the best they can with the revenues we have.”