Drawing conclusions

GREENFIELD — Local paramedics have been given the green light to perform blood tests on suspected drunken drivers instead of sending those suspects to the hospital, leading to tens of thousands in savings for county taxpayers.

The agreement between Greenfield Fire Department and the Hancock County Prosecutor’s Office is expected to save an estimated $15,000 to $20,000 annually, officials said this week.

Prosecutor Brent Eaton recently struck a deal with the fire department in hopes that utilizing its personnel would save both time and money. The Greenfield Board of Works gave the initiative its blessing this week.

Previously, when police needed a blood test done for a driver who was potentially driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, they took the person to Hancock Regional Hospital.

There, the average cost for the test was $218, and last year, the 217 blood draws the hospital provided cost nearly $48,000.

It was an expense the prosecutor’s office couldn’t continue to pay, said Eaton, who took office Jan. 1.

Now, medics will go to Greenfield Police Department or the Hancock County Sheriff’s Department to draw blood from potential defendants. Those will be sent to the Indiana State Department of Toxicology to be tested.

When medics are called to the police department, it will cost the prosecutor’s office $50; at the sheriff’s office, it will be $100.

The agreement is beneficial for all agencies involved, local officials say.

It saves the prosecutor’s office money, allowing it to keep more in its diversion fund, which covers a variety of office expenses.

The fire department will earn money from the deal, and hospital personnel won’t have to worry about someone coming into the hospital who could be combative toward staff or other patients in the facility.

Local law enforcement officers can get back to work more quickly, too, because officers will no longer be waiting at the hospital for the work to be done.

“It’s a win-win basically for everyone,” said Greenfield fire chief James Roberts.

Eaton said the move will bring Hancock County in line with what other prosecutors’ offices do.

Eaton said red flags went up when he began reviewing his budget. The office diversion fund, on Jan. 1, about $63,000, a historically low number.

In 2012, for example, the fund boasted more than $181,000.

“This expense for the blood draws is not the only expense that comes from that account,” he said. “But, you know, if we’re spending $50,000 a year, and we have $63,000 left on day one, obviously, you begin looking at places you can make efficiencies.”

Since 2011, the cost of blood draws has skyrocketed.

That year, the county spent $12,600 on 172 tests. An alcohol screen cost $32 at the hospital, and a dual blood test to screen for drugs and alcohol cost $87.

In 2014, a standard blood test nearly tripled to $93, and a dual test was $280.

The increase was based on a variety of factors. In 2012, the hospital discovered it had overlooked what it was charging the county for the tests; they were being offered far below cost, hospital officials said. The following year, Medicare raised its rates for the tests, and hospitals were required to follow suit.

Eaton said he is hopeful that under the new policy, costs will be curbed significantly.

In 2015, Eaton estimates 215 blood draws will cost between $15,000 and $20,000.

“This is a big change, and we think it will be a substantial benefit to Hancock County taxpayers,” Eaton said.

Greenfield Mayor Chuck Fewell supports the agreement and thinks its a good deal for the city and county.

He and the works board unanimously approved the agreement earlier this week.

“No. 1, it saves money,” Fewell said. “No. 2, it frees up officers from having to wait.”

“In their job, speed is of the essence,” he added. “And I think it’s important we try to work with the prosecutor as best we can.”

Medics should be able to complete the process quickly and won’t be pulled away from their other duties for long, Roberts said.

And residents shouldn’t worry about their availability during a medical emergency elsewhere, he added.

“Our first priority are the 911 calls,” Roberts said. “We’ve expressed that to everybody.”

Once the blood is drawn and handed to the officer, the medic’s role is complete, unless called to testify in court for the prosecution.

The change will take a few weeks to implement, Eaton said. The department of toxicology might not be able to get the results to the prosecutor’s office as quickly as the hospital, but that’s a tradeoff Eaton is comfortable with.

“This is a better way to do it,” he said. “And I think it’s a much better deal for the taxpayers of Hancock County.”

Samm Quinn is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at 317-477-3275 or squinn@greenfieldreporter.com.