Emergency ambulance service in Citrus County will continue uninterrupted.
That was the assurance Citrus County Administrator Randy Oliver gave Inverness’ City Council Tuesday after the Citrus County Commission voted Sept. 14 to take over the service from Nature Coast EMS by October 1.
“We’re actually going to take over Oct. 2, 8 a.m.,” Oliver told the city council members.
“(There will be) no lapse in coverage,” he said.
Under the county’s plan, the new ambulance service will be folded into Citrus County Fire Rescue and include 36 paramedics and 36 emergency medical technicians, he said.
Oliver said more than 50 have already applied for the paramedic posts and more than 70 for the EMT jobs, which is a good sign that people want to be part of the county’s service.
Oliver told the council that the county will give preference to Nature Coast EMS employees. The county will hire them and they will remain on probation for a year in their jobs, he said.
Oliver also said that as part of the changeover, the county will receive new ambulances and equipment. The county will also pay off Nature Coast’s debts as part of taking over the nonprofit’s assets, Oliver said, but told the Chronicle the debt is still being tabulated and he didn’t yet know the amount.
Citrus County Fire Rescue Chief Craig Stevens told the Inverness council the county is reviewing Nature Coast’s operations, taking stock of its assets, and focusing on taking care of the new employees.
Stevens said the county will honor Nature Coast’s most recent salary negotiations and the county is working with Nature Coast’s third-party billing company to move revenues to the county beginning next month.
Stevens also said the employees will be better off because they will join the state's retirement system.
Stevens also said response times to emergency calls will improve.
“We’re going to put more ambulances on the road, so we’re going to improve our response time,” he said.
Stevens told the Chronicle later that the county will put 13 ambulances on the road during peak hours. He said that while he didn’t know how many Nature Coast used during hours of high demand, he was confident 13 was more.
He also told the council he is taking on additional administrative help to ensure good ambulance service and a smooth transition.
Council members told Stevens they felt better about the county’s takeover following his visit.
Commissioner Scott Carnahan told the council it was not an easy vote to end the county’s relationship with Nature Coast.
In the 6 1/2 years as a commissioner, Carnahan told the council taking over ambulance service was probably the toughest decision he’s had to make.
Taking over the service in 16 days will not be an easy task he said, but “sometimes you have to take the bull by the horns.”
But there will be issues in the future, he warned
“There are going to be bumps in the road,” he said.
“I’m standing tall behind them,” he said of his fire rescue staff, and the county will “make sure our residents are taken care of."