LUMBERTON — When a government body picks a higher bidder to fulfill a contract, questions are inevitable.
In May, the Robeson County Board of Commissioners picked EMS/MC, a North Carolina company, to handle billing for its Emergency Medical Services. The bid of 5.5 percent of collections by EMS was accepted even though Med 1’s bid of 5 percent was lower. Med 1, which is locally owned, had held the contract for one year.
The half of a single percent can add up to a lot of money because Robeson County EMS runs about 23,000 calls a year and all county units run nearly 35,000 calls annually. That adds up to $7 million a year in emergency services billed to Robeson residents.
Neither County Manager Ricky Harris nor EMS Director Patrick Cummings said the change was because of poor performance on the part of Med 1.
“We think EMS/MC did a little better job, but one year is not a good test,” Harris said. “It takes several months before bills are collected.”
EMS/MC, a large North Carolina company that specializes in EMS billing, had the Robeson County contract here for eight years before being outbid by Med one year ago. If Med 1 collected the same amount as EMS/MS, it would have saved the county about $35,000.
“We still had a relationship with EMS/MC because they were collecting old bills,” Harris said. “EMC/MC has about 30 contracts in North Carolina.”
Cummings said EMS/MC specializes in this type of billing, while Med 1 was new to the business.
“Med 1 does convalescent transportation billing, which is different,” Cummings said. “EMC/MC knows a lot about Medicare and Medicaid billing in North Carolina.”
Cummings recommended EMS/MC to the county manager. He said they offered other incentives in their bid. He said the company has an excellent reputation in North Carolina.
Med 1 continued to lobby using a local consultant. Greg Bryant contacted the county manager about the bid, but to no avail.
“(EMC/MC) is a very large company,” said Bryant, a Pembroke businessman who is a consultant with Med 1. “The county just put it out for bid, and whoever makes the most money for the county wins.”
EMS is a big business in Robeson County. Seven ambulances run around the clock and an eighth ambulance is called in at peak times. Robeson County EMS has 118 employees, Cummings said.
Collections are a big part of the business, and Cummings said Robeson County “is a very poor county,” so collections are difficult as many people struggle to pay.
A call to 911 and a trip in the ambulance to one of four area hospitals is $600, plus mileage.
Reach Scott Bigelow can be reached at 910-644-4497 or [email protected]