Emmitsburg Ambulance Co. and
the Frederick Board of County Commissioners are set to go head
to head today over the company's new billing program.
Ambulance company officials
are at odds with the board, which has threatened to shut them
down if the billing activity continues.
In a Nov. 8 letter to the
company's Rockville attorney, Keith R. Havens, Commission
President David P. Gray (R) stated that if Emmitsburg
Ambulance did not cancel the pay-per-service billing, its
operations would be suspended, and Central Alarm would no
longer dispatch ambulances from the company.
Last month, county officials
were taken by surprise when they discovered Emmitsburg
Ambulance had set up its own billing program. On Oct. 8, the
company began billing insurance companies $300 for every call
that required patient transport.
Gray ordered the company to
stop, saying that only the Board of County Commissioners
regulates fire-rescue services and has the authority to
approve a billing program.
The company has refused to
stop. Its interpretation of the Frederick County Code gives
the county commissioners authority over fire tax districts,
not billing programs.
The battle of the bills will
continue today at Winchester Hall. Commissioners have asked
the company to defend its actions at a work session and
convince them not to shut it down.
In his letter, Gray said the
board is cutting off county appropriations to the company
until it complies. Michael Gastley, finance team leader of the
county's finance department, said Tuesday that Emmitsburg has
already received half of its $34,350 county appropriation. The
remaining $17,175 was due to be paid on Oct. 24 but was
withheld by order of the county attorney on Nov. 8, pending
the outcome of today's work session.
Frederick County Attorney
John Mathias said Wednesday that he had not heard whether a
representative from Emmitsburg Ambulance would appear at
today's session. However, Ann Marie Messner, public
information officer the ambulance company, said Wednesday that
Chief Steven King and Vice President James Eyler were expected
The timing of the billing
program has rankled both county commissioners and members of
the fire-rescue community because Frederick County is set to
institute countywide ambulance billing next year.
Gray said he expected that
Emmitsburg Ambulance calls would be billed under the
countywide system, which he said would be advantageous to the
"You can bill all you
want - collecting is the problem," Gray said Monday.
He said the county program
would be widely publicized in advance, which should help bill
"Nobody likes to get a
bill. So Emmitsburg, I think, would maybe surprise a lot of
their citizens when they start billing unannounced. So that
may make collection difficult," he said.
Frederick County Volunteer
Fire and Rescue Association President Donald Lachman said
Monday, "We're looking for a single billing system
throughout the county, which we think would be much more
beneficial than each company doing one itself."
King has said that Emmitsburg
Ambulance would continue its billing operation despite the
Emmitsburg Ambulance is not
the first company in the county to bill for its services. In
1996, Walkersville Volunteer Ambulance Co. began a pilot
insurance billing program.
Although initially a
six-month study, the program continues to this day. Unlike
Emmitsburg Ambulance, however, the company began the program
with the authorization of county commissioners. It also offers
a "rescue club" to area residents; for a small
annual fee, the company waives any charges not covered by
King said last week that his
company would not offer the rescue club because the record
keeping "gets too confusing."
County Commissioner John
"Lennie" Thompson Jr. (R) said Tuesday that while he
believes the commission has the legal authority to regulate
the issue, he would have permitted Emmitsburg Ambulance to
begin its program, with the understanding that its billing
would eventually be replaced by the county's.
Thompson does not support
shutting down the company over the issue.
"In my view, there is
not adequate justification to discontinue EAC's
operations," Thompson wrote in press release Friday.
"I will not support an attempt by the BOCC to leave the
Emmitsburg community devoid of ambulance service."
Thompson has been boycotting
closed sessions of the commission, protesting that many of the
topics should be discussed before the public. He said
Emmitsburg Ambulance is among the agenda items being
inappropriately reserved for the closed sessions.
Both County Commissioner Jan
Gardner (D) and Lachman emphatically denied that ambulance
service in Emmitsburg would be hampered by any decision of the
Lachman said the town could
be served by the Thurmont Community Ambulance Co. or by
Vigilant Hose Co., Emmitsburg's fire company. Both companies
have provided ambulance service for Emmitsburg in the past.
Gardner said Wednesday that
Vigilant Hose has offered to provide ambulance service in the
event that Emmitsburg Ambulance is suspended.
"His assertion that
anybody among the commissioners…would even consider leaving
any portion of the community devoid of ambulance is totally
incorrect," Gardner said.
"There would never be
any consideration to leaving any portion of this county
without ambulance service."
Other county commissioners
deny any wrongdoing in discussing the company behind closed
County Commissioner Terre Roy
Rhoderick (R) said Tuesday that the meetings are those of
county executives acting on input from department heads.
"Generally, what we do
in there - we're not making any decisions on expenditure of
county funds," Rhoderick said. "We're not making any
zoning decisions, any things that need to occur in an open
Commissioner Richard B.
Weldon Jr. (R) said Tuesday that he recalled only one closed
session where the company's billing was discussed. To Weldon,
the billing issue is not as important as Emmitsburg
Ambulance's failure rate in July, for which the company is now
under investigation by an independent committee appointed by
the Volunteer Fire and Rescue Association.
The company failed to respond
to seven of eight consecutive calls in a 33-hour period during
Weldon said he hoped the
billing conflict could be resolved without resorting to
closing down the company.
He said he would permit the
billing as long as revenues were not used to pay personnel,
which company representatives have said might happen in the
"I personally wouldn't
have any problem with them continuing as long as we understood
how that money's being used," Weldon said.