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Houston County Courier - Local News

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Hospital Operator Stiffs Lifeguard; Leaves County With Ambulance Bill


By Alton Porter
Courier Reporter

Houston County officials are having to pay about $240,000 to the local ambulance company that representatives of Little River Healthcare and the former Timberlands Healthcare agreed to pay but did not. At the Houston County Commissioners Court meeting Tuesday, July 11, an item on the agenda called for the court to authorize an emergency expenditure in that amount as an amendment to the county's 2017 budget to fund a contract for the subsidy for Lifeguard Ambulance Service through Sept. 30. However, the commissioners unanimously voted to pass a motion offered by Precinct 2 Commissioner Willie Kitchen and seconded by Commissioners Gary Lovell (Precinct 1) and Kennon Kellum (Precinct 4) to table action on the matter until a future meeting. After tabling the matter, County Judge Jim Lovell asked the commissioners for "authority to deal with Lifeguard on this matter, to possibly work out some kind of a payment plan if the court sees fit to do so." However, since designating someone to represent the county in negotiating and entering an agreement with Lifeguard was not an action item on the agenda, the commissioners could not do so at the meeting. So, on the advice of County Attorney Daphne Session, the commissioners agreed to allow Lovell to discuss the matter with Lifeguard representatives and to come back to the court for approval of an agreement. After the meeting, Judge Lovell told the Courier, the $240,000 was for one year's service to be provided by Lifeguard, "and none of it has been paid by Timberlands. They had agreed to do that. It wasn't paid." He explained, before he became judge, the county entered the contract with Lifeguard to pay the subsidy. Going back to the time when East Texas Medical Center - EMS pulled its ambulances out of Houston County in March 2015, county officials took responsibility for the service, Lovell said. The county handed that responsibility off to the Houston County Hospital District through an interlocal agreement negotiated by then County Judge Erin Ford. When Little River Healthcare and Timberlands Healthcare came in a year later, Judge Lovell continued, the hospital district handed it to them through a contractual agreement. "So, Timberlands was supposed to be making the payments. And they were not," Judge Lovell said. "They left here owing the subsidy." Judge Lovell continued, "We're (county government) ultimately on the hook for it because the contract is between the county and Lifeguard. "In the meantime, they (Lifeguard) haven't been paid and they need to be. That's what were working on. We're working with the hospital board to get that matter settled. Somebody has got to pay them. They've been good to promise they're not going anywhere through all of this. "We're going to try to work out some kind of plan to pay it without having to do it all at once. Then, I will come back to the court for approval of the plan." In another action, the commissioners unanimously voted to pass a motion made by Kitchen and seconded by Gary Lovell to award a $297,908 bid submitted by Crockett Construction for improvements to the end of CR 2210 in the Cedar Branch community outside Grapeland in Precinct 2. Sunoco Pipeline, LP, has agreed to reimburse the county for its expenditures on this construction project, which will add 5,400 feet to the end of the road. In addition, all of the commissioners voted for a motion made by Kitchen – seconded by Kellum – permitting Judge Lovell to enter a one-year contract with Asher Group/Hyper- Reach for activation of an Emergency Notification System. According to Houston County Emergency Management Coordinator Roger Dickey, the system will enable county personnel to send out "warnings for everything – even nonemergency things, everything from 911-system outage to missing persons to weather alerts." These messages would go to cellphone and computer users, and maybe even landline phone users, he explained. "We're (only) limited by our imaginations on how we can use it. It's a pretty neat system," he commented. He said the system will be integrated with the county's 911 data and 911 mapping system, and the county has already received approval from Deep East Texas Council of Governments (DETCOG) to relay that information to them. County Auditor Melissa Mosley said there will be a link on the county's website for people to sign up to receive emergency messages through the system, even though sign up is not required. Dickey said people who sign up will receive a wider variety and more messages than those who do not. He said the system is similar to the Amber Alert system. The commissioners voted to accept $5,550 from Houston County Emergency Services Districts (ESD) No. 1 and No. 2 for Dickey's office to be utilized to fund the first year of system. In other business, the commissioners unanimously voted to: • Accept as information a fiscal year 2016 financial statement and audit report for ESD No. 1 and ESD No. 2; • Allow John and Renee Shaw and Taylor Richter of Adult & Teen Challenge of Texas to use the courthouse lawn on Friday and Saturday, July 14-15, to distributed information to help make the community aware that resources are available for adults and teens who can and cannot afford rehabilitation; • Approve a subscription agreement with LexisNexis Corp., a company that provides computer-assisted legal research as well as business research and risk management services, for user access for an on-line law library accessed from the courthouse through Sept. 30, 2018; • Approve two motions for interlocal agreements with DETCOG for Enhanced 911 Public Safety Answering Point Services within the Sheriff's Office, which routes calls to the appropriate services callers need, through Aug. 31, 2019, and for Enhanced 911 Automatic Location Maintenance Services within the county's Address Coordinator's office to keep the services' information accurate during that period; • Approve a request to allow the county attorney's office to make bid for the purchase of an automobile not to exceed $10,000 – $5,000 of the money to pay for the vehicle to come from the county attorney's budget, $3,500 from unused district attorney office funds and $1,500 from the county's contingency fund – and to make the necessary amendments to the county's budget; • Accept transfer of a hangar lease from Larry Davis to John Hammonds at Houston County Airport; • Accept two anonymous donations – $6,000 to Precinct 1's road and bridge fund for improvements to CR 1805 and $1,000 for the purchase of law enforcement equipment – and to make the appropriate budgetary amendments; and, • Receive as information a monthly environmental report for June submitted by Precinct 1 Constable Morris Luker, who is the county's environmental control/community service officer.


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