The abrupt closing of Johnston Ambulance Services at the end of August left a void in ambulance services in eastern North Carolina, and Sampson has been one of the counties scrambling to offer needed resources as call volumes spiked.
Emergency Management director Ronald Bass spoke Monday about the efforts of his department to meet temporary and future convalescent transportation needs in the absence of JAS, which abruptly ceased providing services under their franchise with Sampson County as of Sept. 1. He said temporary contracts have now been inked with five separate agencies to offer transports to patients in Sampson.
Under its franchise, JAS provided between 300-350 non-emergency transports per month in Sampson County, including taking patients to and from the hospital and nursing home facilities, inter-hospital transports and transporting patients to doctors’ appointments or dialysis.
“Really, anything other than 911 calls,” Bass noted.
JAS could also provide backup emergency transportation if necessary, however JAS typically was utilized in that capacity less than two dozen times per year. Bass noted that JAS responded as backup to 11 emergency calls through eight months in 2016.
After consultation with the county attorney, it was determined that the abrupt cessation of services constituted an emergency situation under the county’s franchise ordinance, and memoranda of agreement were drafted for temporary contract services by other providers. In addition, Emergency Management officials worked with volunteer rescue organizations to provide convalescent services in the interim.
JAS was the largest privately-held ambulance service in North Carolina. After more than 40 years in business, during which it served 17 counties in eastern and central North Carolina, the business was suddenly shut down. That meant locations in a dozen counties were closed down — one on Warsaw Road in Clinton among them — ambulances taken off the road and approximately 400 full- and part-time employees laid off.
“On Aug 30, we were notified that at 7 p.m. Aug. 31 they would not be operating anymore — they were going out of business,” Bass recalled. “Needless to say our call volume was going to go through the roof, and it did for a while.”
Following the JAS announcement, Sampson Regional Medical Center officials said the hospital’s patients have depended on JAS for medical transport.
“The closure … has posed a short-term yet significant challenge for our hospital, as it has affected all in-county ambulance transport and has moderately impacted our out-of-county transport,” a SRMC statement read.
Bass credited local volunteers have stepped up to the plate.
“In the first week, they answered 25 calls that I’m aware of,” Bass remarked.
Bass said temporary contracts have now been signed with Cape Fear Valley Health System’s Lifelink to offer Advance Life Support (ALS); Pender Transport Services to offer Basic Life Support (BLS); and LifeStar out of Winston-Salem (BLS started Tuesday and ALS starts next week). Additionally, North State out of Garner will also have units available by next week and Bladen County EMS will offer assistance to patients in southern Sampson, Bass noted.
“It was a big shock,” Bass said of JAS’ closure. “These agencies have come in and are doing a tremendous job. The volunteers were really active right up until last Friday when we got these other agencies to come in. It’s a big job and it took quite a bit of work, but to my knowledge no patient in the county has not been transported where they need to be transported.”
Reach Managing Editor Chris Berendt at 910-249-4616. Follow the paper on twitter @SampsonInd and like us on Facebook.