Bay County commissioners will consider a proposal to make 911 operations more efficient at their meeting on Tuesday.
Currently, there are three call centers in operation in the county. Emergency 911 calls are answered by the county's Emergency Operations Center (EOC), Panama City Police Department and Bay Medical Center's EMS facility. If commissioners give the go-ahead, thousands of calls now received at the latter will be answered by personnel stationed at the EOC.
"It gives us a much better situational awareness for the call takers and the dispatchers," said Mark Bowen, Bay County Chief of Emergency Services. "People in the field are going to be sent where they're needed [and] there's less duplication of effort."
But Bowen said the police department will continue to serve as a primary call center and can take over the entire 911 system if there is a system failure at the EOC.
Bowen said the "co-location" of resources has been in the works for months and the fact that Bay Medical is now a private hospital had no bearing on the current proposal. Bay Medical EMS holds the only Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity (COPCN) to provide emergency transport.
The COPCN expires December 31 and the county is considering its options. Those include taking over the ambulance service, entering a public-private partnership, or privatization.
"The difference with EMS versus fire or other public safety issues is there is a revenue stream," said Chief Bowen.
Hospital officials have said the ambulance service is a "break even" operation; however, that hasn't discouraged private companies from expressing an interest in providing the service if the county decides to put it out for bid.
Bay Medical, which has the experience and infrastructure already in place, is expected to make a play to continue providing the service. Another company with an interest is Lifeguard Ambulance Service, which recently received a COPCN to provide non-emergency transport for Bay County patients.
"We certainly want to be here to support the county in any direction they do go," said Jason Kimbrell, Lifeguard's Regional Executive. "We have the skill set and the experience to provide 911 services."
Chief Bowen said he is researching the various options and will present them county commissioners for a decision. "There's models out there and I just want to show them all of those and then get their direction on which one they think is best for the citizens," he said.