LEE COUNTY, Fla. - Lee County's embattled Medstar program is grounded for good.
The air ambulance service was shut down 3 months ago amid concerns over improper billing and FAA accreditation.
Tuesday morning, commissioners voted unanimously to tap a private company to take over operations.
"When you read all the reports and you hear the culture that was allowed to exist for so many years within this area, it worries me. and I don't see how we're going to fix that," said Commissioner Tammy Hall during the discussion, citing one of her concerns with reviving Medstar as it was.
Two newly-elected commissioners, Larry Kiker and Cecil Pendergrass, were sworn in just hours before the vote.
Pendergrass said the board did not want to wait on making the decision and was eager to move on from the Medstar controversy.
According to the county, moving toward a private or partially-private model would save roughly $2 million.
The company selected for the job would use its own pilots and helicopters, and deal directly with the FAA. The company could use the county's current paramedics and mechanics.
The move also means the county relinquishes its FAA certification for patient transfers, but former Medstar employees say the county will lose a lot more than that.
"Do you want your fire department privatized? Do you want your police department privatized?" said Arnold McAlister, a former Medstar pilot, following the decision. "I personally believe there are some things government needs to provide. It levels the playing field for people who do not have insurance."
In addition to saving money on operations, commissioners think giving up the county's certification could mean the FAA is more lenient with its investigation into Medstar and the potential penalties it levies.
The county's 2 grounded choppers could also be sold for extra revenue.