DANVILLE, Ark. — Yell County leaders took steps Monday night to save the county’s embattled and only ambulance service.
Yell County EMS has been in dire financial straits in the last couple of years, after its former director embezzled nearly $700,000 over the span of years. Sidney Ward and his wife Donna were both convicted earlier this year.
Now-director Teshia Reddin says the ultimate outcome here could literally be a matter of life or death.
“If you’re in a wreck, and you’re trapped and you’re extricated by rescue, and you don’t have an ambulance there waiting…what are you going to do?” Reddin questioned.
Reddin called the Ward couple’s thieving a “huge, huge blow” to the service, both financially and in trust. It’s projected the business will be $200,000 in the red by the end of this year if things continue as is. Reddin says they’ve only received roughly $60,000 in restitution so far and she doesn’t expect the business will be able to carry on much longer.
“Someone needs to make some decisions,” she said.
Those first steps came Monday night as the Yell County Quorum Court voted to dissolve the current emergency services advisory board and put the county judge in charge of Yell County EMS….for now. It’s currently a quasi-county entity, but its workers are not county employees and the county does not fund it.
County attorney Tom Tatum says the fraud investigation also uncovered the EMS service had been operating out of compliance with the law for years, separate of the Wards’ wrongdoing.
“It became clear the county should have been running things the whole time,” Tatum explained. “The thing that may be the best solution, but I don’t know how popular it will be, would be for one of the hospitals to step up and partner with the county.”
Reddin came out of Monday’s meeting surprised but hopeful.
“We’re glad that some kind of move in some direction happened this evening,” after previously describing their current situation as “in limbo.”
Reddin and her staff just want to keep running calls and saving lives….but they can’t, if they run out of money first.
The quorum court also formed an exploratory committee to come up with a long-term EMS solution. Another possibility tossed around would be outsourcing ambulance services but both Reddin and others voiced fears of the negative impact that would have on response times.
The exploratory committee is set to meet for the first time Tuesday. Tatum hopes to have Yell County EMS operating back in compliance by the end of 2018.