COVINGTON - Newton County high school football players and spectators are getting special treatment this school year.
This year, Newton Medical Center is providing a full-time ambulance at varsity home football games in Sharp Stadium free of charge to the Newton County School System.
"We like to do things for the community; it's important we do things for the community," said James Osburn, EMS director at NMC. "We're there, and available if anybody requires medical treatment, we'll help out."
Osburn said the ambulance, which was one of three reserve units, is a fully staffed advanced life support unit with at least one paramedic and one EMT. It is stocked with all of the typical ambulance equipment, and the hospital-paid staff can tend to player or spectator injuries. If necessary, a driver will transport the injured to the hospital for more serious cases and later return to the field; the ambulance will not leave for outside calls.
Osburn said in the past, NMC has had to transport patients, but he does not remember any life-threatening injuries.
For the last two years, the school system has used Magnolia Ambulance Service of Conyers to provide medical needs at a cost of between $3,000 and $4,000; NMC would respond if needed but could not provide a full-time ambulance at the games.
Earlier this year, the NCSS sent out requests for bids for ambulance service at the games. When NMC saw the request, hospital officials determined they could do more than provide the service - they wanted to provide the service free of charge to the school system.
"Newton Medical Center has been a long-standing and very active partner in education for our school system," said Sherri Viniard, director of public relations for NCSS. "The fact that they would provide an ambulance service free of charge to the school system at all of our varsity football games is indicative of their support for our students and our community."
With the school system dealing with state budget cuts, high fuel prices and less tax revenue, any little bit helps the budget.
"In a tight budget year, we were very grateful and appreciative to Newton Medical for the offer," said Deborah Robertson, associate superintendent for administrative services at NCSS. "However, Magnolia has been great the past two years and kept two fully-equipped ambulances at the stadium in case one did have to transport, there would be another ambulance available."
Osburn said he hopes NMC can continue the service every year but is only contracted with the school for one year at this time.
At all other sporting events, Newton Medical Center will respond to the scene if they have a need in which an on-site athletic aide or other medical personnel cannot assist.
Michelle Floyd can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.