Guilford County has an ambulance availability problem in the worst way right now, but the Guilford County Board of Commissioners will be taking the first step toward addressing that problem at the board’s Thursday, Sept. 16 meeting. 

The commissioners will hold a public hearing that’s required to alter the county’s existing ordinances to allow alternative ambulance providers during times – like now – when the previously permitted ambulances can’t keep up with demand.

Earlier this month, Guilford County Emergency Services Director Jim Albright spoke to the board about the immense strain on the ambulance service in the county and the need for outside help.  Largely due to the COVID-19 pandemic, response times have risen to unacceptable levels.

Albright started his presentation to the commissioners by using the following quote in his PowerPoint: “Desperate times call for desperate measures.”

The board isn’t really taking a “desperate” measure at this point, but it is holding a public hearing at the September 16 meeting to receive input on proposed changes to the ambulance services section of the Guilford County Code of Ordinances.

After the hearing, the board is expected to vote to amend the ordinances by adding a new exception to the ambulance franchise requirement – one that would allow Albright to try to get some outside temporary help. 

Albright has cautioned the board that, with ambulance demand so heavy all over the state and the country, he’s not even sure he’ll be able to find the needed help.

Proponents of the change – which is just about, if not everyone – argue that the move is “necessary to assure the provision of adequate and continuing ambulance service and to preserve, protect, and promote the public health, safety, and welfare.”

The new exception allows the county to use non-franchise vehicles “rendering service as an ambulance in case of a major catastrophe or emergency, when the permitted ambulances based in the locality of the catastrophe or emergency are insufficient to render the services required.”

“As used herein,” it adds,  “a major catastrophe or emergency includes, without limitation, circumstances under which available ambulances are unable on a more than isolated basis to meet call demand while maintaining service levels, as reasonably determined by the Guilford County Department of Emergency Services Director or his/her designee.”

The amendment also states that a vehicle operating outside of a franchise agreement under this exception can only do so if it has the prior approval of Guilford County.