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One volunteer agency to opt out of emergency services fees

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EMT Jamie Mantz packs a cot in the back of a Woodstock ambulance outside Shenandoah Memorial Hospital on Friday. Rich Cooley/Daily Rich Cooley/Daily

By Sally Voth -- svoth@nvdaily.com

WOODSTOCK -- At least one Shenandoah County volunteer fire and rescue agency plans to opt out of charging ambulance fees, the Shenandoah County Board of Supervisors was told Thursday.

The board adopted emergency medical service billing fees in November, and expects the fees to bring in $1.2 million to $1.4 million annually.

A memorandum of agreement that each agency has the choice to sign with the county was presented to the panel at a Thursday work session.

It calls for the money collected to first go toward paying a third-party billing agent, and then toward the salary and benefits of a county employee who would act as a billing technician.

After that, the money will be distributed based on who is running the ambulance. If the entire crew is county career staff, the county would receive all of the net revenue. If the whole crew is volunteer, the volunteer agency would get the money. Combinations of county and volunteer rescue workers would result in equal distribution of the remaining funds.
In each instance, mileage fees would be taken out of the net revenue and go toward whichever agency supplied the ambulance.
County residents without insurance won't be billed, although non-county residents will be. The county has said that county residents won't be billed for what is left over after their insurance companies have paid.
County Administrator Doug Walker said the county would have a separate agreement with each rescue company that signs onto the billing.
"It may be that some choose not to," he said. "It's a matter for the agencies to decide for themselves if it's in their best interests."
Walker said he and Shenandoah County Department of Fire and Rescue Chief Gary Yew worked on the agreements with Shenandoah County Fire and Rescue Association President Tarinda Showman.
"The volunteers are involved and agree with it," Showman said. "There are some companies that it just doesn't work for their department as far as their community support is sufficient right now, and the amount of transports that they're transporting is not large enough to be a proactive thing for their department. They don't want to do the billing because they fear that support from the community will drop off in their specific area."
Such is the case with the Fort Valley Fire Department, Chief Preston Stempler said. Billing for ambulance runs would maybe bring in $11,000 a year, he said, and could "destroy irrevocably" the department's fundraising efforts.
However, if career staffers are running from a station that hasn't signed the agreement, the patient will still be billed, Walker said.
Supervisors Chairman Conrad Helsley asked if the agreements would affect the reimbursements the county provides for fuel. They wouldn't, according to Walker.
"There isn't an assumption that this offsets any existing contributions by the county," he said.
District 3 Supervisor David Ferguson said he thinks the agreements should have an "out clause." Walker said that could be discussed with the county attorney.

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