MENLO, Ga.-Chattooga County is getting out of the ambulance business.
The county has contracted with Redmond Regional Medical Center in Rome to take patients to hospitals, which Sole Commissioner Jason Winters said will improve service at a lower cost.
"The winner here has been the county as a whole," Winters said Tuesday, just after Redmond officially opened its new Menlo station.
The switch from a county-run department trims $300,000 to $400,000 off the county budget and increases coverage from two ambulances at one station to as many as six staged in four locations, he said.
"It's dramatic," Winters said.
Redmond already has opened stations in Summerville, Gore and Menlo with plans to open another in Trion within the next two weeks.
The new locations have cut ambulance response time from 12 minutes to about eight, according to Lisa Ingram, director of marketing for Redmond.
"I think it's really been a much-needed change for the county," Ingram said.
Winters said that, before Redmond took over, Medicare, Medicaid and insurance companies covered most patient transports, but the county lost money on debts it couldn't collect. Redmond already has the infrastructure in place to work with the insurance companies and individuals to take care of the payments, he said.
"It's basically just a private carrier being able to maximize that," Winters said.
The county employees who worked in the ambulance department were absorbed into the Redmond staff, and the medical center paid $220,000 for a three-year lease on the county's equipment, officials said.
Ingram said Redmond could operate the service more efficiently because it runs similar services in Floyd and Polk counties, allowing them to streamline processes and work out deals with vendors.
"We've already got the model in place," she said.