Chambers County Fire Marshal Ryan Holzaepfel

Chambers County commissioners are considering options for countywide emergency medical services after a firm presented a feasibility study detailing the different choices they have at their disposal. 

“The overall concept behind it is to create a stable county-ran organization to provide these services to the citizens,” said Chambers County Fire Marshal Ryan Holzaepfel. “Most of the EMS organizations are 501c3 tax-exempt, with the exception of Mont Belvieu, which is a city-run service. Each of these services has its board of directors and different medical directors, and they have different employees for the most part. Some employees work for more than one. The concept is to create a more unified system that is more consistent across the board. The end result is to provide the best service possible for the citizens.” 

Fitch & Associates presented the three options to the commissioners, giving them some food for thought. The firm did the study after Anahuac and Trinity Bay EMS put in a request to commissioners court.

The first option would allow the county’s EMS operations to remain a separate entity. Then, hire a medical director to run all departments funded partly by the county. In addition, a countywide billing system would be put into place along with some patient procedures. 

A second option would cost an estimated $3.81 million and merges current agencies into a Chambers County EMS System Framework.  A medical director would still be in charge overall, but both part- and full-time staff would be hired. A third option, estimated to cost $3.86 million, is almost the same but includes a full-time staff with no part-time employees. 

Pct. 4 Commissioner Billy Combs said Option One would not be a countywide takeover.

“It is just revamping it, and getting some common purchasing practices in across the board with all of the EMS, and standardizing the billing process,” Combs said. 

The other two options would require a countywide EMS, Combs said, meaning the county would take over the Winnie-Stowell, Anahuac, and Trinity Bay EMS services. “The staffing would go through directly through the county,” Combs said. “There were some subtle differences between the two different scenarios, but in essence, they are the same thing.”

Combs said the EMS services in favor of the idea are Anahuac and Trinity Bay.

“Mont Belvieu will not participate because they are pretty much funded through the city,” Combs said. “If we did a countywide EMS service, it would not include Mont Belvieu.”

However, during the commissioners court meeting, Combs said the Winnie-Stowell EMS made it clear to the court they did not want to participate.

“They felt their system was working well and they did not want to change what they are doing,” he said. “They are happy with what is going on now, and everything is good there. So, we are just left with Anahuac and Trinity Bay.”

Combs said he spoke with County Judge Jimmy Sylvia and the court plans to address the EMS options at a budget hearing on Aug. 6. 

“Then, we can put it on the court’s agenda,” Combs said. “Right now, we are doing work on the side to see what the real cost might be. There are a lot of pros and cons either way you go. But, we all agree something needs to be done.”

Holzaepfel said the options were not given in response to a lack of good EMS service in the county. 

“I am not aware of any major issues ongoing in Chambers County,” Holzaepfel said. “But, I know during times of disasters, like with Harvey, Ike and Rita, it sometimes gets difficult for these services to keep staff since there are not many full-time employees in these services. That is not everybody, but there are a significant number of employees in this situation. Their primary job will call them in since that is their duty to act. That has been a challenge in the past during major events like that.”

Holzaepfel added the directors of the current EMS services in the county are doing a fantastic job. 

“There is also the thought that if one of these services are doing well and providing a good service, I can understand if they do not want for that to change,” he said. “And some are ready. But, I cannot see why you couldn’t have the best of both worlds. 

A county system you would have regular full-time employees, but there would still be part-time slots would still be open. The intent would be to provide a primary job and create more stability during various times of disaster or emergency.”

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