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County takes over EMS operations

Posted: July 2, 2015 8:54 p.m.
Updated: July 6, 2015 1:00 a.m.
Martin L. Cahn/C-I

C-I Web Extra: A close up of the side of a county ambulance, showing the Kershaw County EMS logo. The county is expecting to receive two new, modern ambulances in late August or early September.

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At midnight Wednesday morning, it became official: emergency management services (EMS) are now being operated as part of the Kershaw County government.

Since December 2014, county officials said, the county and KershawHealth -- which previously operated EMS -- have worked hard on the transition, necessitated by the hospital’s pending lease/sale to Capella Healthcare of Franklin, Tenn.

More than 30 people  -- mostly county, city of Camden and town of Bethune and Elgin officials -- gathered for an official ribbon cutting of Kershaw County EMS Station No. 1 on Church Street around 10 a.m. Wednesday morning. The personnel and equipment, including ambulances bearing the county’s name and seal, recently moved from KershawHealth’s main campus at Roberts and Haile streets.

“It’s been a good process, it’s been a great process,” County Administrator Vic Carpenter said as he opened the ceremony and turned things over to Kershaw County Council Chairman Julian Burns.

Burns called Wednesday’s ceremony “brief … but important and vital” for the county.

“All of these people represent our commitment as a county to provide quality medical care at the least cost,” Burns said. “We’ve had long debates in our council chambers … about how best to proceed with this. With the collaboration of (KershawHealth CEO) Terry Gunn and KershawHealth, we’ve arrived at this solution, led for us by (County Director of Safety and Emergency Services) Gene Faulkenberry. I would like to give him a round of applause for all his hard work.”

Burns called the effort a “team sport,” and said continuity goes on but there is change as well.

“There’s a change coming. We all know about the negotiations with KershawHealth, and that’s change. But if we get out in front of change, we can make it to the good. I think a good thing is happening today with the men and women … as we step up EMS today,” Burns said.

He recalled Bernard Baruch, who helped finance and fund the hospital more than a century ago, saying the continuity was present through Wednesday’s ceremony.

Burns also thanked Carpenter and Assistant County Administrator Allen Trapp for “engineering” the multi-million dollar EMS’ transition from KershawHealth to the county. He then called forward EMS Deputy Director Gerlad Blanchard and presented with a specially made “challenge coin” for the occasion, similar to those given out by military personnel and veterans groups.

“It has its beginnings in my old parachute regiment, the 506th,” Burns explained. “If you saw the movie ‘Band of Brothers,’ the 506 was the airborne paratroopers who landed at Normandy and took the back of the German lines and opened up the way for my father to punch through with Patton’s army at Normandy in 1944.”

He said each battalion in the 506th infantry had a challenge coin.

“And, for excellence, a soldier was given this by the battalion or brigade commander or regimental commander and that soldier must keep it with him all his life. For if he was challenged by another member of the regiment … he had to buy a beer for everybody in the room,” Burns said, jokingly added he was not trying to advocate alcohol abuse.

He did say, however, the coins carry a certain esteem of teamwork, of brotherhood or sisterhood, and gave his first one to Blanchard.

“Mr. Chairman, we certainly accept your challenge and I can promise to the citizens of Kershaw County, the chairman, the board, you can expect nothing less than complete success from our establishment. We’re going to give it 100 percent effort. We will make this a new day of EMS in Kershaw County,” Blanchard said.

Before having an official ribbon cutting for EMS Station No. 1, Carpenter listed out those on the county’s transition team. In addition to Trapp, Faulkenberry and Blanchard, the team included Finance Director Angie Helms, 911 Director Kirk Stropes, Emergency Management Coordinator Christy Denkins, Human Resources Manager Leigh Hughes, Building Maintenance Director Rob Keasler, Information Technology Director Chris Jones, PC/Network Technician Jeremy Morrow and Ron Alpert of county fleet maintenance.

“Those men and women made today happen, made today possible. We would not be here without them,” Carpenter said.

Following the ribbon cutting, Carpenter offered a tour of Station No. 1, which formerly housed Kershaw County Special Services. The building now includes a day room with computer work station, kitchen area and television, two sleeping quarters, bathroom with shower and a supervisor’s office with supplies. A generator sits on standby outside in case of a power outage.

Carpenter also said the county is awaiting the arrival of two new ambulances. He said the ambulances are in the process of being built this month and should be outfitted and arrive by late August or early September.

These are the recommended type of vehicles,” Carpenter said. “They are especially designed and built for this type of work. They are big Dodge diesels. It’ll be good.”

Even though Wednesday marked the first official day of Kershaw County operating emergency management services (EMS), there’s a good chance many people already noticed “Kershaw County EMS” on the orange and white ambulances.

June 20 served as a “soft roll-out” of the transition. Even before then, however, a few people noticed the county seal on ambulances as the county prepared for the takeover. Carpenter said those had to be taped over prior to Wednesday in order to meet S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control regulations.

KershawHealth asked the county to take over EMS operations as part of its negotiations with Capella Healthcare for the for-profit company to lease/purchase the hospital for $36 million. Capella plans to operate KershawHealth in collaboration with MUSC Health, the patient care arm of the Medical University of South Carolina. Once the deal is finalized, Capella will lease KershawHealth’s real estate for 40 years and purchase all its furniture, fixtures and equipment.

A letter of intent (LOI) signed in December -- and which has now been extended to July 31 -- by KershawHealth, Kershaw County, Capella and MUSC Health did not include EMS services. Part of the negotiations has included determining whether, as a new company in Kershaw County, Capella Healthcare would pay taxes or fees-in-lieu of taxes (FILOT) and when those payments would be due.

Earlier this year, the county said Capella would not be making such payments until early 2017. As part of handing over EMS to the county, KershawHealth agreed to pay Kershaw County approximately $2.6 million to cover EMS operations until Capella begins making payments. On June 23, county council voted by title only -- meaning without details or discussion -- on first reading of an ordinance authorizing a FILOT agreement with Capella.

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