ELKINS -- Although he says the situation is not yet serious, Tom Pritt believes the Randolph County Emergency Medical Squad could run out of money within the next six months.
"We're definitely not desperate yet, but we wanted to go ahead and work on it now before it gets that way," said Tom Pritt, president of the EMS authority. "We want to be proactive about this. We can project where we're going to be and we want to take steps and do things now to be sure things don't get to be desperate.
"We'd rather deal with it now, while we have the time to think about things and make plans, rather than wait until it's too late," he said.
Pritt told Randolph County commissioners at a meeting in July that the authority is spending money from the equipment fund to make ends meet. The major reason for the financial shortfall is a recent decision by the state's Division of Labor, Wage and Hour Section concerning unpaid overtime that cost the authority about $200,000 in reserve cash.
"To avoid future overtime, we've hired more people," Pritt said. "We've found it's cheaper to hire more people than to pay the overtime."
Coupled with the overtime hit, the authority also has been saddled with increasing gasoline prices, rising training costs and high maintenance bills. Pritt said authority officials are considering a price increase to bring the Randolph County service in line with nearby ambulance services, and have also asked to be a permanent budget item for the commission.
"Elkins (Davis Memorial Hospital) is a regional hospital anymore. We get people from Randolph, Tucker, Pocahontas and other counties," he said. "If these people need to go to Morgantown, it's not the ambulatory services from those counties that do the transport runs, it's us. We've made as many as seven trips in a single day and those miles really pile up."
Pritt said there was no danger of the EMS shutting down, even if the financial situation remains the same or worsens
"Right now, we're just identifying the problem and working on fixing things," he said. "We're going to be keeping the County Commission apprised of what's going on, and even though nothing's actually been said, I get the feeling they will take care of it."
Pritt noted that commissioners provide about $10,000 every year to each of the 10 fire departments in Randolph County, while the county's only EMS got a total of $20,000 this year. Aside from the main Elkins station, the Randolph County EMS also has satellites in Mill Creek and Harmon.
Regional writer James Fisher can be reached at 626-1446.