Williamston EMS experiencing financial, leadership difficulties

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By Stan Welch

The Williamston EMS squad is undergoing extraordinary changes, beginning with the ousting of long time director Joe Barr, who resigned last week after a vote of the membership. That vote reportedly followed Barr’s tendering of his resignation to the Board of Directors, who declined to accept it.

Leah Davis is currently serving as interim chief. The Board of Directors was scheduled to meet with County Administrator Rusty Burns Tuesday afternoon. The purpose of that meeting is unclear, since the county contracts with each EMS or Rescue squad individually for emergency medical services, but has no direct involvement in the provision of those services.

The problems, and alleged mismanagement, have been going on for some time; recent events brought the issue to a head.

In a letter from the members of the squad to County Director of Emergency Services Scott Stoller, a litany of concerns is raised, along with some troublesome allegations.

The letter refers to a five to seven year period during which the unit has seen its financial status continuously decline.

The letter states that the aggregate issues “call into concern our future financial wellbeing as individuals, our ability to perform at our maximum capabilities, due to stress, and our ability to provide optimal care for Anderson County as a whole, and for Williamston in particular.”

Some of the key allegations mentioned in the letter, which is dated May 1 of this year, include the redirection of grant funds intended for the procurement of new twelve lead cardiac monitors for use in making payroll and paying other bills.

The letter expresses the concern that the vendor of those monitors may appear at any moment, expecting payment for the equipment.

Another major issue was the cancellation, without notice to the employees, of their health insurance benefits on April 27, but backdated to October of 2014.

The monies withheld from employees’ paychecks were used to pay bills and meet payroll, but have not been reimbursed to the employees.

The letter also charges that approved 401K deductions were made, but not placed into the designated funds. On one occasion, employees received partial paychecks, although the letter stresses that it was a one time occurrence; and that the balance was paid the following week.

In addition to employee benefits and other issues, failure to pay the normal operating expenses have allegedly resulted in such problems as the sporadic loss of insurance on the various emergency vehicles; the inability to refuel some vehicles, due to past due invoices; and an unreliable ability to order the necessary supplies needed to meet contractual obligations and state licensing standards on the Advanced Life Support (ALS) ambulances.

According to the letter, employees have sometimes paid to fuel ambulances from personal funds.

Repairs to the various ambulances, or trucks as they are called, is often questionable, due to outstanding bills for previous repairs. The unit headquarters in Williamston has been without central heat and air for some time. Space heaters were used during the winter months, and small window units are being used for cooling.

Station 2, on Cherokee Road, is described as being in a “state of complete disrepair, with leaking windows, a leaking roof, and plumbing issues that have yet to be given attention.”

The letter states that the listed problems and concerns barely scratch the surface.

A source at the county who is familiar with the situation says that the Williamston squad is the poster child for distressed EMS units across the county.

Despite that opinion, squads are all feeling the impacts of federal regulations that make the performance of convalescent runs, for purposes such as chemo, or dialysis, much harder to invoice and collect for.

In addition, federal regulation and oversight causes other problems as well. According to someone associated with a different squad, Medicare declared a two week moratorium earlier this year, simply refusing to reimburse any claims made, regardless of their previous approval. But the problems at Williamston precede those issues by several years, according to the letter.

It cites Barr’s lack of leadership for more than a decade; and it declares the employees’ admission that the organization is beyond saving. They say that they are “seeking the assistance of the county. What we want is a leader who is trustworthy and transparent.”

Leah Davis, currently the interim chief, offered only this statement. “Chief Barr was asked to resign, and he did. I am currently acting as the interim chief and will know more about the situation later in the week.”

Efforts to contact Mr. Barr for comment were unsuccessful.