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County moves closer to full-on ambulance service agreement with NGHS

Barrow County officials are drawing closer toward an agreement where Northeast Georgia Health System would handle all ambulance transports in the county starting in July.

It’s the latest step in a service-provider agreement between the two parties as county emergency services leaders have said in recent years the department continues to struggle with finding qualified paramedics. The issue is part of a nationwide trend as paramedics have higher-paying jobs, more flexible hours and a wider range of work opportunities available, which officials say has poised challenges to traditional EMS models.

“It’s a sustainability issue,” Barrow County Emergency Services chief Alan Shuman said.

Under a draft agreement presented to the county board of commissioners during its annual planning retreat last week, NGHS would operate all of the county’s ambulances and handle transports to and from Northeast Georgia Medical Center Barrow and other area hospitals at an annual cost to the county just shy of $2.4 million.

Four of the ambulances would be staffed 24/7, while two more would be staffed during peak 12-hour periods, and NGHS would have two reserve ambulances available as well, Shuman said. Hospital paramedics and the ambulances would continue to be housed at BCES stations to cut down on costs of additional housing, he said.

The new agreement, if approved by the BOC as part of the crafting of a county budget for Fiscal Year 2022, would also roll in the existing arrangements between the two parties, where NGHS houses an ambulance at Northeast Georgia Medical Center-Barrow in Winder and where the hospital system operates one out of a county station in Auburn.

“When you need an ambulance, there’s going to be an ambulance,” Chad Hatfield, president of NGMC Barrow and NGHS regional vice president for hospital operations, told the board. “We will reevaluate the agreement at the end of every year because this is new to us, too. We want to make sure we’re getting the best value out of this. We’re not going into this with the intention of making a ton of money. We want to be able to continue to build and expand in Barrow County, and this is really the next step.”

The difference in the cost of the agreement to the county and what the EMS budget would otherwise be without it would be negligible in FY22, officials said. But Deputy Chief Heath Williams said the county will save money on capital expenses in the long run and that citizens should ultimately receive better overall service as a result of the switch. Williams said that with NGHS taking over ambulance transports, BCES would retain another 42 employees by reassigning them to fire/rescue trucks to assist in ambulance responses.

Shuman said 80 percent of the calls the department currently responds to in a county with a fast-growing population are some type of medical emergency, which he said sometimes ties up staffers when they may be needed elsewhere.

BCES will continue to respond to calls and retain the county EMS license to ensure NGHS responds to incidents at adequate levels, Shuman said.

“We want to make sure we’ve got (the agreement) to where they’re responding to calls in a timeframe we establish,” BOC chairman Pat Graham said.

Moving all of the 42 employees would increase the county’s fire fund budget from roughly $5.2 million this fiscal year to a little over $7 million in FY22, Williams said.

BOC members were generally in favor of the outlines of the agreement last week and BCES officials are planning additional discussions with the board as the county moves toward eventual adoption of an FY22 budget in June.

“I see a lot of benefits to the citizens with this,” commissioner Rolando Alvarez said.

Winder infant in need of five-organ transplant; online fundraiser started as family makes move to Florida for treatment

For good reason, Wyatt Patterson’s mother describes him as “the strongest little guy I’ve ever met.”

In four short months of life, during which he has undergone six major and minor surgeries and 84 blood product transfusions, the little boy from Winder has endured more than most adults do in a lifetime. And now he is need of a rare five-organ transplant in order to save his life, forcing his family to relocate for the foreseeable future to south Florida where he is undergoing treatment and awaiting his turn for the procedure.

Wyatt is currently living in a newborn intensive-care unit at Holtz Children’s Hospital in Miami, with his parents, Courtney Patterson and Tyler Jennings, by his side after making the roughly 700-mile move last month. Wyatt was born Dec. 3 with Gastrochsis, where the infant’s intestines form outside of the abdomen, and was immediately placed in an NICU unit at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. He lost over half of his small intestine as a result of the defect, and he has been suffering from liver failure and other health problems.

Wyatt will need a new liver, small intestine, large intestine, stomach and pancreas; otherwise, doctors have said, he may not make it to his first birthday, according to his family.

And it’s uncertain when the opportunity for a transplant will come about. While Wyatt is expected to be at the top of the waiting list, the situation is further complicated by the fact that he will need all five organs at once and that they will need to come from a baby smaller than him, his mother said.

“He’s come out of liver failure, luckily, giving us a little bit of bigger timeframe, which is amazing,” Courtney Patterson told The Barrow News-Journal last week, adding that Wyatt remains “in the best of spirits.”

“I’ve been told by countless nurses that, when you look at him, you can’t even tell he’s sick because he’s just such a good baby,” she said. “He’s a little behind on his developmental milestones, as to be expected, but he’s been catching up. He’s such a happy baby and loves to play and enjoys when he gets lots of attention.”

The family has started an online fundraiser through GoFundMe to help raise proceeds to cover treatment costs. They had received more than $10,000 from over 100 donors as of Sunday, April 25. While the family isn’t sure exactly how much they’ll have to pay out of pocket, the surgery will be “one of the most expensive ones there is,” Courtney said.

Following the transplant, the family anticipates having to live at or by the hospital for at least another six months for immunizations and rehabilitation and likely longer in the area so he can be monitored closely for signs of rejection. A hard organ transplant lasts 5-15 years, meaning Wyatt will need several more in order to live longer. Survival rates are 70 percent for one year, 50 percent for five years and 40 percent for 10 years, Courtney said.

“It’s the last possible option for our baby and if we didn’t want to give him the best chance at life possible, we wouldn’t be going down this route,” she said. “We know that by saving our child, we’re going to be giving up a majority of our normal lives and swapping it for a much harder emotional and financial path, but we love him more than anything and are willing to do absolutely everything that we possibly can for him.”

The online fundraiser can be found at https://www.gofundme.com/f/wyatts-transplant-fund.

Multiple suspects sought in murder of Bethlehem woman

Murder warrants have been issued for suspects in the murder of a Bethlehem woman that occurred last week in Gilmer County.

According to a news release from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, warrants have been issued for four suspects, and a fifth unidentified suspect is also wanted in connection with the April 20 killing of Rossana Delgado, 37. The four known at-large suspects are Megan Alyssa Colone, 30, of Stone Mountain; Juan Ayala-Rodriguez, 35, of Gainesville; Oscar Manuel Garcia, 26, of Austell; and Mario Alberto Barbosa-Juarez, 29, of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. It is believed that the four suspects, plus the fifth suspect, may no longer be in Georgia, according to officials, who added that Colone may be traveling under the alias, Grace Beda. Colone is believed to be traveling with her minor children. Authorities nationwide have been alerted about the suspects, according to the release.

Around 7 a.m. April 20, the Gilmer County Sheriff’s Office conducted a welfare check at a residence in Cherry Log.  Gilmer County deputies responded and then requested the assistance of the GBI’s regional investigative office in Cleveland after finding Delgado’s body at the scene. She had been reported as a missing person in Barrow County on April 16 and was last seen alive in DeKalb County that same day, according to the release.

Efforts to identify the fifth suspect in this case are ongoing.  Anyone with information about the whereabouts of Colone, Ayala-Rodriguez, Garcia or Barbosa-Juarez are asked to call the GBI Tipline at 1-800-597-TIPS(8477), report the information online at https://gbi.georgia.gov/submit-tips-online or by downloading the mobile app, “See Something, Send Something.” 

“If you see any of these individuals, do not approach them. Call 911 immediately,” officials said.

The investigation remains active. The GBI and the Gilmer County Sheriff’s Office continue to coordinate with the Barrow County Sheriff’s Office, the DeKalb County Police Departmen, and the Chamblee Police Department, as well as multiple state, local and federal agencies to locate and hold the responsible parties accountable. 

Autopsy results on Delgado’s body are pending. 

Upon completion of the investigation, the file will be provided to the Appalachian Judicial Circuit District Attorney’s Office for prosecution, according to the release.

Barrow State Court plans ‘fast-track day’ for traffic offenses

People who received traffic tickets late last year from either the Barrow County Sheriff’s Office or Georgia State Patrol may be eligible for Barrow County State Court “fast-track day” set for June 15 in Courtroom 1 at the county judicial complex on Barrow Park Drive in Winder.

State Court Judge Robert Gardner said the fast-track day is being held to help the county catch up on backlogs of cases in the county probate court, which was operating under a COVID-19 emergency, and the state court, which didn’t begin operations until January.

Those whose tickets indicated their case would be before the probate or state court, and meet all eligibility requirements, can apply by going online to http://www.barrowga.org/departments/state-court-solicitor.aspx, completing the “Fast Track Form” and returning it to barrowcountysolicitorgeneral@gmail.com. Upon completion and return of the form, people will be notified of their appearance date and time.

All traffic offenses for the Fast Track Day are eligible with the exception of DUI, habitual violator or vehicular-homicide offenses. If any of your charges are ineligible, you or your attorney should contact the State Court Solicitor’s office at barrowcountysolicitorgeneral@gmail.com.

Those who have attorneys are asked to not apply for the fast-track day, as their attorneys will need to contact the solicitor’s office on their behalf.