BROOKSVILLE — Hernando County's emergency medical service providers are getting a hand from the private sector.
Earlier this month, the County Commission awarded a certificate to a Pasco-based private ambulance service, MedFleet Inc., allowing the company to expand its medical transport services in Hernando County and fill some unmet needs.
Basic ambulance transport services through MedFleet have already begun, and, beginning Monday, advanced life-support ambulances will also be available.
MedFleet will be able to provide transport services between hospitals, skilled nursing facilities and assisted living facilities, as well as out-of-county transport. The county will not pay for MedFleet's services. Instead, the company will collect through insurance and private-paying customers.
Mike Rampino, the county's new public safety director, told commissioners that there are times when county EMS units are so busy responding to emergency calls that nonemergency transfers get delayed.
Out-of-county transfers are also a problem because they mean ambulances can be gone for hours. Rampino said the county even has a policy that no more than one out-of-county transport can take place at a time.
In addition, between midnight and 8 a.m., the county's ambulances transport only the most seriously ill or injured patients. Anyone else must wait, Rampino said. And that can tie up hospital beds for hours and also cause issues at the facilities waiting for the patients.
Those are some of the areas where MedFleet can fill a need, company officials told commissioners.
Under the company's agreement with the county, MedFleet will be able to provide any basic life-support transport between facilities and advanced life support ambulance service for all patients, except the most severely injured and ill, from midnight to 8 a.m. If the county cannot respond to the most urgent cases during those hours, officials can assign them to MedFleet.
A family business, MedFleet and its sister corporation, Wheelchair Transport Service, have been serving Central Florida for decades, co-owner George B. "Bud" Williams told commissioners. The companies provide 100,000 transports annually, including service in Pasco, Pinellas and Polk counties, and as far south as Collier County.
MedFleet president and co-owner John Williams assured the Hernando commission that the company had the financial capability to provide the ser-vices promised. He talked about the company's "quality without compromise" slogan and vowed to establish a presence in the county and to do business locally.
The company will complement what is already being provided by the county's emergency medical services, said Andrew Williams, general manager and co-owner.
In speaking with county service providers and those in the medical community, the need for additional transport service was clear, Williams said. Hospital officials said they would like to see transport services for patients within an hour of a call, he said, but "this standard is frequently not available."
Last week, as the company was moving additional vehicles to Hernando County, Andrew Williams said his company has worked to establish relationships with local medical facilities over the last several years, always intending to provide more.
The timing to seek the full ambulance certificate was prompted by the consolidation of fire rescue services currently under way in Hernando, he said.
The county's hospitals wrote supportive letters, encouraging the commission to approve the certificate for MedFleet.
Oak Hill Hospital has contracted with the company for several years to provide stretcher and wheelchair transport for patients leaving the hospital.
"They have provided impeccable service, frequently going above and beyond to meet the needs of our patients," wrote the hospital's case management director, Yvonna Johnston. "Their service is provided in a professional, efficient and courteous manner."
Patrick Maloney, chief executive officer for Brooksville Regional and Spring Hill Regional hospitals, also urged the commission to grant the certificate.
"I believe our hospital, our patients and the residents of our county would benefit from their presence here and the quality services they provide," Maloney wrote. "Our facilities have years of positive experience working with MedFleet, and we intend to utilize their ambulance services once they receive this licensure."
Not everyone has enthusiastically supported the MedFleet certificate.
Tom Diaz, regional general manager for American Medical Response of Florida, urged commissioners to delay a decision until his company's application for the same certificate could come before the commission.
The community should have a choice of companies, he said.
His attorney, Seth Mills, said the MedFleet application indicated there were still details to be worked out, so it wasn't ready for approval.
But Hernando County Attorney Garth Coller said that the application by MedFleet was complete and that the commission could consider only specific issues in making its decision, such as whether there was a need for the service and whether MedFleet had the ability to provide it.
How the choice might affect another potential provider should not be considered, Coller said.
Commission chairman Dave Russell boiled it down further, translating Coller's advice.
"First come, first served," Russell said.'
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at email@example.com or (352) 848-1434.