Glynn County may introduce new ambulance fees in the near future, but the cost of existing fees is unlikely to change.
Ambulance fees last changed in 2015 and are calculated based on the level of care a patient needs, said Glynn County Fire Rescue Chief Randy Jordan. Basic life support, whether for emergency or non-emergency conditions, costs $450, and advanced life support from $550 to $650, along with $12.50 per loaded mile.
By contrast, Camden County charges $250 for basic service outside an emergency, $375 if it is an emergency, $550 to $650 for advanced life support and $700 for a special care transport, said Charles Lowther, assistant chief of the Camden County Fire Department and its EMS director.
Camden also tacks on $12 per loaded mile during the ride to the hospital.
McIntosh County residents get their ambulance services from Grady EMS, which charges well above the other two.
The McIntosh County Commission contracted with Grady EMS, an outgrowth of Grady Health Services in Atlanta, in 2019.
A basic life support emergency transport would cost $750 if provided by Grady, followed by the advanced life support service at $825 and the level 2 advanced life support at $1,125. Grady’s fee schedule includes a critical care transport fee of $1,200.
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A ride in McIntosh County also comes with an $18 per-loaded-mile charge, which Lowther said is close to the maximum permitted by the state Office of EMS and Trauma.
Glynn County’s revenue study committee has been considering what changes might be in order to bring the county in line with other communities for several months. Committee members plan to present their recommendations to the Glynn County Commission in the coming months.
The committee intends to break out non-emergency transport into separate fees, but the actual cost of a non-emergency transport will remain the same as that in an emergency.
Glynn County does not have a similar category to Camden’s special care transport and Grady’s critical care, but Jordan said the revenue committee has been receptive to the idea of instituting one. Such categories are typically reserved for hospital-to-hospital patient transportation and can involve intensive care en route, he said.
Lashonda Billue, a member of the county’s revenue study committee, said the fire department also does not charge for calls to assist personnel in nursing homes or assisted living centers when a resident falls.
After investigating the issue, committee Chairperson Audrey Gibbons said the assisted living centers and nursing homes have been using the county emergency medical services to perform tasks for which they already employ personnel.
“They have staff who can lift those patients, but they call EMTs,” Billue said.
The committee may recommend a fee for such visits in the future.
“That’s the only thing we saw that was inconsistent (with industry standards),” Gibbons said.
Unpaid fees for Glynn County EMS transportation stand at nearly $1.84 million, according to Jordan.
Medicare and Medicaid combined have been charged $239,975 since the current fiscal year began in July and paid almost half back since. Individuals taking the cost on themselves come in second at over $170,000 in fees, of which approximately 10 percent has been paid back.
There’s still another 10 months in the fiscal year, but Jordan said this one is shaping up to be fairly reflective of past years.
Glynn County collects about 50 percent of its ambulance fees, close to the average for the industry, according to Lowther. Camden has close to $596,044 in outstanding fees and boasts a collection rate of around 68 percent, Lowther said.
Just because someone hasn’t paid off their tab doesn’t mean they’re not trying to, Jordan said. Many make regular payments when they can but never completely pay it back.
It’s simply part of the business, said Lowther. Not all will be able to pay for their ambulance ride, but EMTs and paramedics can’t just leave people who need a trip to the hospital to die.
Glynn County contracted with an agency last year at an 80-20 split in a bid to bump up past-due collections.