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Commissioners hear health report, begin search for new helipad site

Clay County Commissioners voted Thursday evening to move emergency medical billing services to a new carrier and at the urging of County EMS Director Ricky Lancaster, agreed to search for a place to relocate the landing zone for emergency response helicopters.
They also heard the Clay County Community Health Assessment from Health Department Director Janice Patterson. She said Hepatitis C is on the rise in the area, due in part to increased drug abuse and shared needles.
Lancaster said the Emergency Medical Services billing contractor has been EMS Management & Consultants. The company’s services have proved unsatisfactory, according to Lancaster. Furthermore, they are outsourcing their billing overseas, he said.
He recommended the county switch to Collington Software group, noting that Graham County has already switched carriers and Cherokee County is in negotiations to do so as well.
“I think it would be a good move to switch. Two or three years ago, they were great. This year their service is not what it used to be, Collington will update our software and train our staff,” Lancaster said.
He predicted a savings of at least $50,000 over a year’s time if the county makes the switch. Clay Logan moved to go with Lancaster’s recommendation and Ed Roach seconded it.
Landing zone is safety concern
Regarding the current helicopter landing zone, Lancaster recalled a couple of close calls, and said if a chopper hit the tower at the EMS station it would cripple the county’s 911 call center. The current landing site is near the Four Square Community Head Start Day Care Center, which also is a concern.
Lancaster recommended keeping the landing site on county property and said grounds at the wastewater treatment plant on Jarrett Road might be a good possibility. The site is large enough, he said.
Another acceptable location is on school property, but Life Force does not like to fly near a school site, he told the commissioners.
“It’s a real safety concern,” said Lancaster. “I don’t like where it is now.” Last year helicopters landed 52 times, and that once-a-week average is continuing.
Robert Peck urged a note of caution. “Be sure we do our due diligence and personally I’d like to take a little more time to make sure we indeed pick the best location,” he suggested.
“We need to find a permanent site,” said Logan.
Another possible site on county surplus property is across from Southwire Company on Tusquittee Road, the commissioners learned.
They deferred any final action until the next board meeting.
Hepatitis C on the rise
In her annual Community Health Assessment, Janice Patterson pointed out that Hepatitis C is an emerging health issue in Clay County and is increasing across Appalachia.
The increase is related to intravenous needle use, contaminated blood products and shared needles among users, she said. Hep C, if left untreated, can progress to liver failure and require a liver transplant.
Poverty and drug use are contributing factors to the rise in cases across Cherokee, Graham and Swain counties as well, Patterson said.
She gave an update on the health department’s new building and said it is becoming a focal point for the community and highly utilized by the local citizens.
The department’s dietitian is getting area-wide referrals. She also offers diabetes prevention and education services, Patterson said.
The department has added an extra nurse practitioner to help increase access to care. Now two nurse practitioners are available three days each week, the dental program is going well and the department is trying to test and treat Hep C cases.
Two new drug treatments are effective against the disease but both are very expensive, she said.
“We’re working with the uninsured to help people get their medications if they can’t afford it.” Patterson added. Some drug companies also offer indigent care programs.
Grant motion fails 3-2
Clay County Economic Development Director Aaron Patton asked the board’s permission to apply for a grant to prepare a site-ready pad in the industrial park with the aim of attracting a new business to Clay County.
Site-ready parcels are major enticements to lure new enterprises, Patton said. At a recent meeting of the Clay County Economic Development Committee the focus was on preparing a site-ready pad in the industrial park. That board voted to have Patton apply for Invest-prep money if the commissioners approved. If the county received the grant, TVA would cover 70 percent of the cost with a local match from the county of 30 percent, he said.
“Roughly if the cost would be $100,000 the county would need to match $30,000,” Patton said. “It would get a site move-in ready.” The grant application is due March 22, he said.
Ed Roach pointed out that site-ready is one of the key attractions to lure new businesses to the county.
“My concern is, where does the $30,000 come from?” queried Peck. “Will this grant be available again?”
Patton said he did not know. He had not received any inquiries from specific businesses, he said.
Roach made a motion to give Patton authority to pursue the grant. Clay Logan seconded the motion.
Penland wanted to know how large the site would be and said he would like more information.
Peck agreed, adding there are “too many questions at this point.”
“We ought to get started on it,” Logan argued. “This is just preliminary.”
“It would have been better if we had known about this process rather than bringing it to us and expecting a decision instantly,” Penland said.
With Roach and Logan supporting the motion, and Penland and Peck voting against it, Nichols broke the tie.
“I have a hard time justifying spending any amount of money on a whim,” Nichols said. The motion failed 3-2.
Board votes money for repair of steps
Under old business, the commission revisited a request from the Historical and Arts Council for money to repair steps at the old jail museum. The county owns the building. The council had received an estimate of $4,200 for the repairs.
Noting that the building belongs to the county and has never received any operating funds from the county, Nichols asked for a motion.
Penland said since it’s a county building and the steps are a safety issue, he made a motion to contribute $3,000 toward correction of the problem. Peck seconded the motion.
“Where are they gonna get the other $1,200?” Logan wanted to know.
Penland argued that $3,000 is “a good starting point.”
“I’m all for safety,” Roach said. “I’m sure it needs repair but I have a problem with spending $3,000 for steps when we could possibly spend $30,000 to attract new industry and create jobs.”
Penland’s motion carried with no voiced opposition.
In other action, the board appointed Tina Mallamas as chair and Rick Andrews as vice chair of the Clay County Board of Equalization.
In closed session the board voted a small annual pay raise of $1,000 to Kevin Sheehan at Clay County Transfer Station.

Clay County Progress

Mailing Address: PO Box 483, Hayesville, NC 28904
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Phone: 828-389-8431
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