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Council OKs franchise for private ambulance service

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By Chris Sardelli

Lancaster County Council has approved a new ambulance service to operate in the county.

The private ambulance service, called American TransMed Inc., was given the go-ahead to operate a franchise in the county on Monday. Council voted 6-1 in favor of the measure, with Councilman Cotton Cole dissenting.

Greg Kirby, president of American TransMed, and Emergency Medical Services Director Lanny Bernard answered questions from council.

Kirby had already received a license from S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control and a certificate of liability insurance. His company now has a three-year franchise to operate in the county.

The new company will provide basic life-support services with advance life-support capability. County Administrator Steve Willis said the difference between this service and regular emergency vehicles is that EMS uses “big-box” ambulances, while TransMed will operate smaller, van-size ambulances.

“They will be able to do the basics,” Willis said. “This is for when people can’t hop in the car and run to the doctor.”

The TransMed office will be located in the same location as Agape Hospice on Meeting Street. It will be open Monday through Friday from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.

According to county business regulations, a private ambulance service must be granted a franchise for providing convalescent transportation services in the county.

The private service cannot compete with Lancaster County EMS in providing life-support emergency medical services, but it can assist the county’s EMS in the event of a disaster.

Cole expressed concerns about the amount of liability insurance the private ambulance service would be required to carry to operate here.

“I wasn’t opposed to the ambulance service, but I wanted to see higher liability amounts,” Cole said. “This is 2008, not 1999, so why are we using the old rates?”

At council’s April 27 meeting, Cole said he believed  the insurance rates listed in the county’s code requirements for private ambulance services were too low.

According to county code, liability insurance amounts range from $100,000 to $500,000.

Cole said that code, written in 1998, should be revised to include amounts up to $1 million.

Cole said if there were an accident involving the company, the county could be on the hook for any costs over the liability amount.

County Attorney Mike Ey said there was nothing preventing council from updating the insurance amounts.

But on Monday, Bernard recommended keeping the liability code the same to allow council to vote on the ambulance service.

“You can change (the code) at any time,” Bernard said.

Councilman Larry Honeycutt made a motion to approve the franchise for the ambulance service, with the idea that council will review the possibility of changing the amounts in the insurance ordinance at a later date.

Council is expected to revisit the liability insurance issue at its next meeting.

Contact reporter Chris Sardelli  at csardelli@thelancasternews.com or at (803) 416-8416