Impressment of Private Ambulances by Horry County

By Paul Gable

The Horry County Public Safety Committee heard a proposed ordinance from Horry County Fire/Rescue Department to require private ambulance services to enter into franchise agreements with the county.

The private ambulance services would be on call to Horry County, as needed, to supplement the county’s publicly owned and operated EMS units.

According to Fire/Rescue Chief Fred Crosby, there are 28 private ambulance services operating within the county. Approximately five of those are certified by SCDHEC for emergency services. The remainder operate basically non-emergency transport services often contracted with nursing homes.

The proposed ordinance would require all 28 private companies to enter into a franchise agreement with Horry County in order to remain in business within Horry County.

A franchise application fee of $1,000 plus $100 per vehicle must be paid to the county prior to the application being processed. These fees are in addition to business license fees and other costs paid by these private services.

In addition, the private services would be responsible for billing and collecting fees from the patients serviced and would have no recourse to the county for non-payment.

Horry County writes off between $1 and $3 million per year for unpaid ambulance charges provided by the county’s publicly funded emergency medical services.

To its credit, the committee deferred any action on this proposal pending further study and a possible workshop with the county’s private ambulance operators.

Council member Marion Foxworth compared the idea of Horry County forcing private ambulance services, in order to remain in business, to enter into franchise agreements with county government and pay for the privilege to the impressment of U.S seamen by Great Britain that led to the War of 1812.

And that may be stating it mildly. In 1812, some in Great Britain were still unwilling to admit the loss of the U.S. colonies 30 years before. In this instance, Horry County has no prior claim on private ambulance services.

Foxworth also pointed out forcing private ambulance companies to provide services, virtually at the whim of the county, could jeopardize nursing homes operating in the county. Those homes are generally required by SCDHEC to have transport services contracted to them ready to provide service when necessary.

The proposed ordinance has major flaws, to say the least, and will not make its way to full county council consideration without major changes. One wonders, however, how such a proposal, with so many flaws, could be seriously presented to a council standing committee in the first place.

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