Changing the provider of emergency medical service on Jenkins Island will trim costs without affecting its residents, officials say. Beaufort County's contract with the Town of Hilton Head Island expires Thursday, after which the island's Fire & Rescue Division will no longer provide direct response to Windmill Harbour, Blue Heron Point and Outdoor Resorts RV Resort & Yacht Club. Those areas are just outside town limits and will now be handled by Beaufort County EMS.
The county chose not to renew its agreement with the town because a consultant determined the county could cover the 40 or so service calls each year to unincorporated areas near the bridge to Hilton Head for less than the $125,000 it was paying the town.
Consultants with CRA of Alexandria, Va., recommended the county stop paying the town for EMS service, noting the town already charges patients in that area a fee for taking them to the hospital. The recommendation was part of a final report from a $225,000 study of the quality and speed of the county's EMS care.
Town officials objected, saying they could not afford to provide EMS service without payment. As a result, the county decided not to renew its contract, according to town officials.
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The change does not affect the town's agreement with the county and the Bluffton Township Fire District to provide mutual aid to the affected areas.
"As in the past, the town will respond to requests for assistance from the Bluffton Township Fire Department and county EMS," wrote Hilton Head Fire Chief Lavarn Lucas in an interim policy memo to staff. "Any requests for EMS services to Jenkins Island and Harbour Town should be honored if staffing permits."
The county has an ambulance stationed at the downtown Bluffton fire station within eight to nine minutes of travel time. Ambulances are also stationed at the Callawassie and Sun City fire stations, which can also respond, if needed.
Bluffton firefighter paramedics can respond, as well. Jenkins Island is part of the Bluffton Township Fire District.
The county also hopes to add an ambulance at the Moss Creek station within the next six months, according to William Winn, Beaufort County public safety director.
"EMS response will be no different from what the fire department has been doing for years in providing fire and first-responder service," Winn said. He added the change reduces cost to the taxpayer and "brings us in line with recommendations to provide better response in the Bluffton/Highway 278 corridor, including Jenkins Island."
Barbara Lindblad, president of the Windmill Harbour Property Owners Association, said she is confident the county will provide prompt, adequate response.
"We were not surprised. We knew it was under consideration and have been assured level of service and response times will not change," she said.
County officials have told town officials they intend to ask Hargray, which provides phone service in the area, automatically send land line 911 calls from Jenkins Island to the county dispatch center. In the interim, all 911 calls from these areas will be transferred by the town to county dispatch, which will then send the Sheriff's Office, county EMS and Bluffton Fire Department as necessary, Lucas said.
The town also will no longer transport EMS patients from Daufuskie Island. All requests to pick up a patient from the Harbour Town docks will be sent to county dispatch, which will send a county EMS unit from Bluffton to take the patient to a hospital.
That has some on Daufuskie Island concerned patients will wait at the dock for an ambulance.
"It is something we'll have to keep a close eye on. It's a wonderful thing for the county to save some money in this day and age, but it only takes one person having to wait at the dock in an emergency situation that we'll need to make some noise about," said Aaron Crosby, chairman of the Daufuskie Island Council. "I would hate to be that person."
Follow reporter Tom Barton on Twitter at twitter.com/EyeOnHiltonHead.