BROOKSVILLE - County Fire Chief Mike Rampino said expanding the duties of the private ambulance service the county uses to provide basic and advanced life support transport services in Hernando County could lead to paramedic and EMT layoffs and the loss of up to $1 million a year in his budget.
Rampino said his paramedics and EMTs are able to meet the current call load of emergency and nonemergency transports and there is no need to change the current status.
However, at least two county commissioners at this week's board meeting discussed the possibility of giving Pasco County-based MedFleet Inc. more duties by modifying the certificate of public convenience and necessity between Hernando County and that private firm.
Currently, MedFleet supplements the transports done by county employees and helps out when and where needed.
But Rampino was asked to come back with options that included MedFleet taking over all transports in and out of the county, which would lead to full privatization of the county's ambulance service.
Rampino stressed that all of this is exploratory, and no decision has been reached. More discussion is expected at the July 9 county commission meeting.
The original intent of the certificate, signed in January, was for MedFleet to handle some of the non life-threatening 911 calls to free up county paramedics and EMTs to handle the more serious cases, such as cardiac arrest calls.
But Commissioner Nick Nicholson said he is getting calls from residents in nursing homes that are reporting wait times for transports to a medical facility of up to 48 hours.
Expanding MedFleet's duties would help residents by speeding up out-of-county transports, County Commissioner Nick Nicholson said.
Nicholson said the idea is not to put people out of work but to keep local county personnel in-county handling more serious calls.
"Nobody's going to lose their jobs," Nicholson said. "I won't support that."
Rampino said he knows of no 48-hour delays.
"I would reasonably expect if a person is in a nursing home, waiting for more than a day, this department would have gotten a phone call," Rampino said. "To my knowledge, that hasn't happened."
Rampino added that if MedFleet assumes more responsibilities, there would be diminished duties for many county employees and the potential is there for job cuts.
During fiscal year 2011-12 (Oct. 1, 2011 through March 31, 2012) the county did 293 interfacility emergency and nonemergency transports. That involves everything from driving people from a hospital to the nursing home, a nursing home to a hospice or rehabilitation center or to a person's home.
From Oct. 1, 2012 to March 31, 2013 - the first six months of the current fiscal year - the county has had 192 calls for in-county transports.
During the previous fiscal year, there were 581 out-of-county emergency and nonemergency transport calls. Year-to-date this fiscal year, there have been 339.
Bobby Rae, president of the Hernando County Local 3760, said he doesn't believe the votes are there to support the expansion of MedFleet and what he calls that company's purposeful plan to get more of the transport business in Hernando County.
The company's help was needed at the time to relieve some of the county paramedics and EMTs during the late-evening hours, Rae said.
"But now they're getting greedy and they want everything," he said. "They're pushing the county commissioners hard to get all the service."
Rae said the people of Spring Hill were promised when the county took over that nothing would change under consolidation. This would be a reneging of that promise, he said.
Rae said the county stands to lose $800,000 to $1 million if it goes 100-percent private and that would be a big hit to the budget.
MedFleet's certificate with the county allows it to perform all basic life support ambulance transports. The company also is allowed to do advanced life support under certain conditions.
Nicholson joined County Commissioner Wayne Dukes in pressing for the fire chief to come back to the board with data and options on the MedFleet expansion.