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Avery Commissioners Approve New EMS Fee Standards and Receive Annual WAMY Report

By Tim Gardner

New fee standards for Avery Emergency Medical Services (EMS) and the annual WAMY report were the key topics during the regular monthly meeting of the Avery County Board of Commissioners April 1.

Commissioners attending included: Vice-Chairman Blake Vance; Wood Hall (Woodie) Young, Jr.; Tim Phillips; and Dennis Aldridge. Chairperson Martha Hicks was absent due to illness. Vance conducted the meeting in Hicks’ absence. Also present were: County Manager Phillip Barrier, Jr.; Assistant County Manager and Clerk to the Commissioners Cindy Turbyfill; Finance Officer Tim Greene; and County Attorney Michaelle Poore.

Ashley Cook and Sara Freer of WAMY gave the Commissioners a detailed update about its history, services and assessment of needs in Avery County.

In 1964, a group of twelve citizens came together to address the unique needs of those living in poverty in the rural counties of Watauga, Avery, Mitchell, and Yancey counties. This group received funding from the NC Fund which deemed them one of seven community action agencies in North Carolina. Then WAMY—with its letters representing the four counties—Watauga, Avery, Mitchell and Yancey– was officially chartered as a private 501-c3 nonprofit agency and has been at the forefront of the fight against poverty the past 54 years.

Community action agencies are unique among non-profits as they are able to change the programs they offer to adapt to the needs of the community. WAMY strives to fill the gaps between the needs of the low-income and the services that are already being provided.  Wherever there is a need that is unmet, a barrier that is unaddressed, WAMY is there to direct resources toward finding a solution.  WAMY’s funding comes from a combination of grants, community foundations and private contributions. Its board of directors is made up of elected public officials or their representatives, members of the private sector and low-income representatives.  This diversity in leadership ensures that we use funding effectively to meet community needs.

WAMY was one of the first human service non-profits in the four-county region, acting as the launching pad for many agencies and services still in operation today.  Its previous initiatives include senior centers, transportation authorities, including AppalCART, Head Start centers, summer youth programs, and the Adult Day and Health Care Center of Yancey County.

Current initiatives include family development, housing and energy services, youth development, and food and nutrition services. Last year alone, WAMY served 688 people with these initiatives and referred 800 others to organizations equipped to meet their needs.

Every three years WAMY conduct a community needs assessment to identify the top needs in its service area. Its most recent assessment identified five major needs. In order of urgency, they are childcare, employment/education, housing, transportation and senior services. Childcare is by far the biggest need in all four counties; however, in Avery, WAMY identified transportation to and from available childcare as the most current need.

As a result of this assessment, WAMY is working to find resources to address these needs. In Avery County, this entails providing transportation for children to and from after school.  Currently, its main focus is to purchase a van to combat this need, and have safe and reliable transportation for these children. The organization’s officials hope that the community will come together and help meet this need. 

Cook and Freer also said that WAMY Community Action partners with families and governments to provide the disadvantaged the support and tools they need to become self-sufficient.

WAMY also partners with the Avery County Agricultural Department and 4-H to offer the After-School program and Summer WOW program. These programs provide after-school and summer care for 250-plus children. The After-School program has been in existence for more than ten years, while the WOW program has operated for more than fifteen years.

During the Commissioners’ Celebrate County Government segment, the Commissioners honored four Avery County members of the WAMY Community Action for their sterling service to the families of Avery County. They included: Clayton Harpold, Public Representative; Marion Krege, Low Income Representative; Michelle Ball, Private Representative; and Beth Gacek, Public Representative.

Colleton Software of Walterboro, SC, the billing company for Avery Emergency Services (EMS) recommended that the County adjust its fee schedules for EMS. Joelle Calhoun and County EMS Director Mike Edmisten appeared before the Commissioners about the fee changes. Colleton Software officials suggested the following Medicare fee increases as at its current rate, Avery County is not collecting the full allowable for each procedure. The Commissioners unanimously approved the following recommended changes:

ALS Non-Emergent   $314.00 to $425.00

ALS 1 Emergent   $497.00 to $575.00

ALS 2 Emergent   $720.00 to $975.00

BLS Emergent   $440.00 to $575.00

BLS Non-Emergent   $261.00 to $360.00

Mileage   $9.00 to $12.00

Round Trip Medicaid $250.00 to $750.00

Treat-No Transport     $50.00 to $575.00.

Calhoun and Edmisten noted that once the new fee schedule for Medicaid is published, the reimbursement for T-2003 will be $474.00. It’s anticipated to be approved around July 1st.

Also, under terms of the new Medicaid program, the Treat-No Transports will be paid at the BLS Emergent rate.

The Commissioners also approved the County entering into an agreement with the High Country Council of Governments for the provisions of Grant Administration for the Community Development Block Grant’s Neighborhood Revitalization Program and to for a modification agreement between the County and the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services for remainder of the 2018-19 fiscal year.

Three resolutions the Commissioners also unanimously adopted during the meeting were: Supporting Juvenile Crime Prevention; Dedication of the Community Room named the Thomas Alvin Wright Community Room at the new Avery Aquatic Facility; and Supporting Local Control of School Calendars.

Barrier, Jr. informed the Commissioners that the swimming pool is still on schedule to open in May and that contact information for the Avery CARES Center is now available on the county’s web site (averycountync.gov).  He also told the Commissioners that the county is in on-going negotiations with a grocery chain about purchasing the Lowes Hardware property in Newland.

Additionally, Barrier, Jr. said that a new building will soon be constructed at the Riverside EMS base in Ingalls to replace the trailer that houses the base. He noted that once the new headquarters building is completed, service there will then be available 24 hours a day; seven days a week. The base is currently staffed five days per week and eight hours each day.

In other business:

*The commissioners unanimously made seven Service Board appointments. Kathie Massee and Susie Potter will serve on the local Morrison Library Board and the Avery-Mitchell-Yancey (A-M-Y) Regional Library Board. Also, Edith “Dede” Traver, Patti Tennille, Clay Pat Dale, Moses Braswell and Christopher Byars will serve on the Board of Equalization and Review.

The next regular monthly meeting of the County Commission will be Monday, May 6, in its Board Room in the County Administration Building at 175 Linville Street in Newland, beginning at 3:30 p.m.