This is an updated version of a story by Richard Sullins which appeared in the August 2021 printed edition of The Rant Monthly. Contact him at

As the Lee County Board of Commissioners held the first of two public hearings Monday on whether to grant the county’s franchise for emergency medical service to FirstHealth of the Carolinas, supporters of Central Carolina Hospital – which has held the franchise since 1997 – urged members to reconsider.

“Losing this contract to an EMS provider in another county would be potentially devastating to the residents of this county,” said Dr. Rajiv Swamy, an interventional cardiologist at CCH. “Our EMS paramedics do exceptional work and having their expertise available within minutes of those who need it is a critical service to a growing community like this one.”

Jennifer Beard, a physician assistant with Sandhills Family Care said the move could threaten the local economy.

“If you start removing small pieces of the local health care puzzle, what will happen is that those people won’t be able to get the continuum of care here that they need. And when those pieces start to disappear, that will be the beginning of an economic downturn here.”

(In the leadup to publishing the August 2021 edition, The Rant received letters from both CCH and FirstHealth explaining their positions on the matter – read CCH’s here and FirstHealth’s here.)

The county’s current contract with CCH expires at the end of September. A second public hearing – and a vote – is scheduled for Aug. 16.

A divided EMS Advisory Committee voted 3-2 last month to recommend that the commissioners adopt FirstHealth’s contract proposal following the two required public hearings in August.

The commissioners had asked the committee in May to review the two applications for service that had been received and to make a recommendation on which option seemed the best for the county. The Committee met on June 10 with both FirstHealth and CCH to hear their presentations on the merits of their proposals. The Committee reconvened July 7 and prepared additional clarifying questions for both applicants and two days later, on July 9, made its recommendation to the commissioners.

The Committee reported to the commissioners July 19 that its recommendation to switch to FirstHealth for emergency medical services was because of their extensive fleet of ambulances and large staff to provide round the clock coverage; an existing paramedic academy through which it hires, trains, and graduates employees; and its track record of success in the neighboring counties. It also indicated that the costs associated with additional ambulance services for the county were reasonable.

The Committee’s report expressed the belief of its members that trained first responders can “help get services to citizens more efficiently by utilizing the various fire departments within the county.”

The August 16 hearing will be held at the Dennis A. Wicker Civic Center 6 p.m. The decision to ultimately award the next contract for emergency services is expected to be a highly-charged one as the hearings are held.