Bay County is getting into the ambulance business. In a unanimous vote Tuesday, county commissioners agreed to transition EMS from Bay Medical-Sacred Heart to the county.
It's a direct result of Bay Medical Center going private in 2012. The county no longer wants the hospital to operate the ambulance service because it is now in direct competition with Gulf Coast Medical Center.
Commissioners are convinced EMS can be brought in-house and run at a profit. An industry consulting firm estimates annual net income of $600,000 to $1.2 million.
But Bill Kinsaul, Clerk of Courts and Comptroller, raised a red flag during Tuesday's meeting and said his own analysis tells a different story. Kinsaul told the board he polled 35 Florida counties that operate ambulance service and found that all of them subsidize it with taxes and special assessments.
But Commissioner Mike Thomas said Bay County is different because its mix of tourists and military personnel will ensure fee collections outpace expenses.
"I think if we maintain the philosophy that we've got as far as user pay for the ambulance, then I think it will work," Thomas said. "If the public wants us to subsidize ambulance and make it cheaper for everybody we can certainly do that… but I don't think this board's prepared to do that."
The Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity (COPCN) to operate EMS takes effect on July 1, but emergency operations chief Mark Bowen said that's not the date the county will begin operating the ambulance service. There are a lot of logistics to work out with Bay Medical, Bowen said, and he expects the transition to be completed in the July/August time frame.