EFFINGHAM — A Shelby County ambulance company can continue providing transfers for now in Effingham County. A judge on Thursday denied a request of Effingham County officials for a temporary restraining order.
The county sought to halt operation in Effingham County by Lakeside EMS. Effingham County State’s Attorney Bryan Kibler said the county alleges Lakeside EMS is in violation of an Effingham County ambulance ordinance.
The ordinance, passed in September 2004, allows only one ambulance company to provide emergency services within the county. Abbott EMS is currently contracted by the county to provide such services.
The ordinance also requires any company that wants to provide transfers between hospitals, long-term care facilities and similar operations to obtain a letter of authorization signed by at least three board members. Such companies must also have a mutual-aid agreement with Abbott EMS. According to the lawsuit, Lakeside EMS has neither an agreement with Abbott EMS nor a letter of authorization.
Kibler said Thursday that the county has an obligation to uphold the ordinance and its contract with Abbott EMS, which makes Abbott the exclusive ground ambulance provider.
“It’s clear that Lakeside has been operating in the county,” Kibler said. “The county does have an interest in upholding the ordinance. The county is allowed to restrict ambulance services.”
Charles Philbrick, a lawyer for Lakeside EMS, argued that the county can only limit emergency ambulance services, and inter-facility transfers are not included within those limitations.
Lakeside EMS opened July 16 and made its first transfer in Effingham County the following day, according to CEO Jerrod Estes. Estes said Lakeside EMS averages two transfers a day in its coverage area, which services 12 hospitals, including HSHS St. Anthony’s Memorial Hospital.
Lakeside EMS acknowledges making transfers within Effingham County, Philbrick said. Kibler called that a clear violation of the ordinance.
Philbrick said there is a clear distinction between emergency ambulance services and inter-facility transfers, adding that Lakeside EMS has only performed these transfers and is therefore not in violation of the ordinance.
Philbrick argued that at times, Lakeside EMS is the closest ambulance service because Abbott EMS might be hours away.
“Particularly after midnight, there’s not enough ambulances to meet the need. We’re talking about creating a situation where people could die,” Philbrick said.
Kibler said the county risks being sued by Abbott EMS for violating the contract the county has with Abbott. The threat of a lawsuit and aggressive advertising tactics is what Kibler said moved the county board to pursue a temporary restraining order.
“Lakeside EMS is using guerrilla marketing tactics. Lakeside EMS is aggressively targeting patients that are already in our hospital,” Kibler said.
Kibler said that advertising for Lakeside EMS is all over HSHS St. Anthony’s Memorial Hospital, which is within Abbott EMS’s coverage area. He added that other ambulance companies that transfer patients into and out of the county do not advertise like Lakeside EMS does.
Because 22 other ambulance services are also making transfers in the county, Philbrick said he felt his client was being discriminated against. He said long-standing ambulance services have not obtained a letter of authorization but are still allowed to make transfers in and out of the county.
Kibler responded by saying the aforementioned “aggressive” advertising from Lakeside EMS is the reason the ambulance service is under scrutiny.
“Lakeside is being more aggressive than other services,” Kibler said.
The two parties will discuss how to proceed in a conference call with the judge on Sept. 26.