FORSYTH COUNTY — The Forsyth commission approved a new ambulance service for the county Wednesday after the former provider threatened to stop service, citing financial and other challenges.
The move, which passed in a 5-0 vote during an emergency called meeting, meant Roswell-based Central Emergency Medical Services assumed operations as of 9 a.m. Thursday.
“We have spoken to Central today and they stand willing, ready and able to immediately commence, and indicated that they were enthusiastic to do so,” said County Attorney Ken Jarrard.
The assignment, or transfer, of the existing contract came about after Advanced Ambulance, which had served as the provider since 2008, notified the county Tuesday that it would cease service as early as Wednesday morning.
The goal was never to shut down services to Forsyth, said Stuart Teague, attorney for Advanced Ambulance CEO Stan Rutledge.
“The economics of it was not working for him,” Teague said. “Central [EMS] is a bigger company. With the way health care is changing, billing is becoming tighter on what insurance is providing.
“It’s just like what is happening with the primary care provider situation. It applies to ambulance services, too. [Central is] bigger, so it will be easier for them to make money on the contract.”
Another factor in Advanced Ambulance’s lack of cash flow, Teague said, was the consequence of a search warrant executed at the company’s office and at Rutledge’s residence on Jan. 4.
“[Investigators] took all the billing software and computers and made it impossible to bill all the work in progress, making it impossible to continue work,” Teague said.
Forsyth County Sheriff’s Maj. Rick Doyle declined to comment on the nature of or reason for the investigation, confirming only that the search warrants had been executed in connection with an active criminal investigation.
Teague said he could not comment on the “real reason” the warrants were taken out.
“Now that [the contract’s] been resolved, it’s probably better to not comment,” he said. “The sheriff’s office still could have an investigation, but we honestly don’t know what they think they’re after. But they’ve got the financial information.”
Jarrard, the county attorney, said officials with the county and Cumming-based Advanced met Wednesday morning to address the service matter.
Per the agreement, Forsyth will not be able to seek a new ambulance provider until at least 2017.
“That’s the only concession, if you will, that we are providing,” Jarrard said. “I think that is reasonable, that’s modest, that’s consistent with the agreement that we’ve been giving.”
The county was scheduled to pay Advance Ambulance nearly $1.3 million for service in 2016.
There will still be seven staffed ambulances in the county to respond to emergencies. Gary Coker, Central’s president, said in a statement that ambulance service would not be interrupted in Forsyth.
“Central EMS’ exemplary staff of EMTs and paramedics are dedicated to patient care and work hard every day to raise the bar on medical transport for our patients,” he said.
During the meeting Thursday, Commission Chairman Pete Amos gave special thanks to Fire Chief Danny Bowman and his department, which were “ready at a moment’s notice” to deal with the loss of a contracted ambulance service.
“We were never in jeopardy of having one minute without ambulance service thanks to his department,” Amos said.
Staff writer Kayla Robins contributed to this report.