A financial crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic forced the temporary shutdown of one of three ambulances serving the unincorporated areas of Liberty County on Tuesday. For about four hours on Tuesday, the ambulance was parked and the crews who worked on it were laid off. By Tuesday afternoon, Liberty County EMS had negotiated additional funding from Liberty County to keep the ambulance operational, and the crews were hired back.
“The coronavirus has hit us pretty hard. With more people working out of their homes, our overall dollars have dropped by about 25-30 percent. We got into a losing money position, so we had to cut expenses,” said Liberty County EMS Director Mike Koen. “When we did that, we immediately heard from County Judge Jay Knight and a couple of commissioners who were concerned.”
A meeting was quickly arranged with Koen, Knight, Pct. 4 Commissioner Leon Wilson, Liberty County Fire Marshal Bill Hergemueller and County Attorney Matthew Poston where they discussed the potential problem areas of coverage by Liberty County EMS’s fleet configuration and came up with possible methods to short up the coverage immediately. The discussions included additional payments to Liberty County EMS.
“It still has to be approved by Liberty County Commissioners Court first,” said Mike Koen, “but this will allow us to keep all three ambulances running with two-man crews 24 hours per day, seven days a week.”
The terms and conditions of any contract modifications between Liberty County and Liberty County EMS will be considered at the Sept. 8 regular meeting of commissioners court.
The existing contract pays Liberty County EMS an estimated $500,000 per year, which doesn’t even cover the annual cost of one ambulance. However, Koen said that with insurance, self-pay, Medicare and Medicaid payments, and the increased payment being proposed from the County, the ambulance service will be able to pay employees and expenses, and meet its obligations.
“Our payroll alone for one ambulance crew, plus additional overtime, is $520,000 a year,” Koen said.
Liberty County EMS covers the entire county with the exception of the cities of Liberty, Dayton and Cleveland. Last year, the ambulance call volume was 4,015 calls. Currently, one of three ambulances is stationed in Daisetta and the other two are housed at the HWY 321 fire station. Koen said he is looking for a place to put an ambulance in Tarkington.
“There is a lot of activity in that area, so we need an ambulance in Tarkington,” he said.
Liberty County EMS also offers a LifeCare program in which county residents can ensure that they will pay no more than $75 per year for ambulance service despite the number of times they might use the service.
“If you are transported by an ambulance, the most you are going to pay annually is $75 for the program enrollment,” Koen said.
The LifeCare program is open to anyone with private insurance, self-pay and Medicare. Medicaid customers do not qualify. The membership comes with identification cards that members keep in their wallets or purses. For more information, call 936-536-3080.