Barrow County is selling an ambulance to Northeast Georgia Physicians Group to handle medical transport services for that unit, starting May 31, under an expansion of a 2019 service agreement between the two parties.

The Barrow County Board of Commissioners approved the agreement amendment at its March 10 meeting. Under the agreement, the county is selling an ambulance to the health system for $65,000, and the unit will be staffed by the health system and stationed at Barrow County Emergency Services Station No. 4 on Fourth Avenue in Auburn.

The county will pay NGPG $700,000 per year for the services in monthly installments of just over $58,000. For the first year, that monthly amount will be reduced to a little more than $52,000 until the purchase price is paid in full. The county will also do billing and retain billing revenues.

Last year, the county and health system agreed to station an ambulance at Northeast Georgia Medical Center, and the agreement approved last week is the latest step in the county’s effort to slowly transition “out of the transport business,” county manager Mike Renshaw said. The county will retain its paramedics now on the unit and cross-train them to help with other units and equipment.

Emergency services chief Alan Shuman said department leaders have determined that the department can more “efficiently and effectively” provide services within zones 4 and 7 by using one ambulance and two rescue pumpers. The NGPG unit will have primary responsibility for all of zone 4 and portions of zone 7, while another unit will pick up the remainder of zone 7. Existing staff and equipment can cover the rescue pumper services, Shuman said.

The move is projected to save the department roughly $552,000 in the Fiscal Year 2021 budget, Shuman said.

Commissioner Billy Parks cast the lone dissenting vote against the proposal, saying he wasn’t sure it would be beneficial to the public to have one ambulance primarily covering the two zones, given the growth in the Auburn area.

“I would certainly not try to lower” the standards of service, Shuman said, adding the department wants to keep its service level to where it maintains its bond rating and improves it in the future. “To keep us at the level we’re at and better, we have to look at what we can do to make it more sustainable.”

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