SMITHFIELD, N.C. (WNCN) – Ambulance service in Johnston County is finally returning to normal, six months after the area’s primary private transport company went out of business.
County commissioners approved a contract with a third ambulance service following the closure of Johnston Ambulance Services. Med-Ex Medical Transport will join North State Medical Transport and Samaritan Ambulance Service in providing non-emergency transports.
Johnston Ambulance Services shut down suddenly on August 31. JAS covered most of the county’s non-emergency transports, while Johnston Emergency Medical Services handles emergency calls.
“The closing of Johnston Ambulance had such an impact, not only on Johnston County, but on the entire eastern part of North Carolina, because they were just so heavily involved in so many EMS systems. It left over 400 people without jobs,” Johnston EMS director Josh Holloman said.
“It was really devastating, and for us, it really left a gap for medical transport.”
Johnston EMS was able to maintain its response times for emergencies, but Holloman said there was some strain on the 911 system as EMS ambulances had to cover some non-emergency calls. He said EMS expected to have to pick up some transports, but after adding crews from Raleigh-based North State and Garner-based Samaritan, the call volume was still high.
“When we looked at that and the growing (population in the county), the increased need with our assisted living facilities and our hospitals, we just saw very clearly that we needed another provider,” Holloman said.
Hospital staff at Johnston Health in Smithfield said they saw patients having to deal with delays before and after treatment.
The hospital’s Administrative Director of Emergency Services, Marylynn Smith, said patients had to wait for rides to and from Johnston Health’s facilities in Smithfield and Clayton, as well getting to nursing homes or other residences.
“Even with both ambulance companies, we still had a need for help or additional services, so we went to the county commissioners to see if we could get another ambulance,” Smith said.
“It’s great for the patients in our community to have these services readily available for them so they don’t have to be waiting for transport.”
Holloman said the other ambulance companies have done a great job, but there are so many people in need of ambulance rides that they simply needed more coverage. Smith said the Clayton area in particular is growing quickly.
Med-Ex Medical Transport’s chief operating officer, Jeffrey White, said the company plans to establish an office this spring in either Clayton or the western portion of Smithfield. Med-Ex is based in northeast North Carolina, but has an office in Wilson. Ambulances will be deployed from Wilson to different parts of Johnston County for the next few months.
The company hired some drivers and medics from Johnston Ambulance Services for the expansion, and some former JAS employees found work with other ambulance operators in the area.
“We did an open hire call for some of the employees that lost their jobs, and then brought them in. They are basing here out of Wilson right now but they will be transitioning over back to Johnston County,” White said.
“We will have a location right there in the community so we can serve the citizens of the county.”
White said Med-Ex expects to do about 1,000 non-medical transports a month in Johnston County. The company currently makes about 30,000 trips a year in the eastern part of the state.
Marylynn Smith said she is very pleased to have more ambulance service for patients at Johnston Health.