WASHINGTON COUNTY, ARKANSAS, Ark. — A little over two and a half years since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Central EMS in Washington County is still battling the virus. However, it might not be in the way you might think.
Supply chain issues and increased cost of medical supplies are just some of the lingering impacts of COVID that Central EMS is continuing to battle.
"We've seen about an average of about 60-percent increase in medical supplies since late '19, early 2020," said Central EMS Chief, Steve Harrison.
Harrison says gas higher gas prices have also been a major financial factor, "We've seen over a 200-percent increase in our fuel costs."
Since the onset of the pandemic, Harrison noted a decline in the number of people who were transported to a hospital via an ambulance. Most of that decline came at the height of the pandemic as many people needing care opted to not go to a hospital out of fear of the virus.
Central EMS serves nearly two-hundred-thousand residents in Washington County - Springdale residents are served by their own ambulance service - but can only staff around 30 emergency workers during any given shift.
Harrison says with more people not going to the hospital, his crews were running more calls but not transports. That increased work time and decreased revenue from insurance companies and Medicare.
A decline in revenue and increase in costs now has Central EMS asking Washington County and cities to help provide more than $1 million in additional funding.
"If we don't have an ambulance capable of making that call, we can't come to you and get you to the hospital," says Harrison, stressing the importance of operating the fleet.
All additional funding will come out of city and county general funds - meaning there should be no additional tax or cost to citizens.
Each city is requested to pay an amount of money proportionate to its population size, meaning Fayetteville will spend more than the neighboring city Farmington.
The request is still being discussed and a final decision could be made in the next 30 to 60 days. Farmington Mayor Ernie Penn says his city is ready to provide its portion of about $30,000 to Central EMS because he feels the cost of a life is worth more than the extra financial help to those who provide the care.
"I think it's important, we need to pay what we need to pay to keep that service alive and keep it going and protect our citizens," said Penn.
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