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Ambulance debate continues

Unicoi County officials, pictured, again heard opposition to MedicOne continuing as the county’s ambulance service provider during a meeting on Jan. 11 at the Unicoi County Courthouse. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Richard Rourk)

By Richard Rourk

Ambulance service in Unicoi County once again faces uncertainty as the Unicoi County Ambulance Committee meeting on Thursday, Jan. 11, ended with the committee pushing for Mayor Garland “Bubba” Evely to call for a special Unicoi County Commission meeting to decide if there will be a rebidding process.

Roughly 20 citizens, led by former mayoral candidate John Day, attended Thursday’s meeting to express concern over the original bidding process that ended with MedicOne receiving a new contract to provide ambulance service for the county for another four years beginning in April 2019.

The original bids were sent out prior to Evely and the new County Commission taking office. “There was a very inadequate job done sending out the request for proposals (RFP) a year ago,” Day said addressing the committee.

Day followed by attempting to get a unanimous response by the committee.

“Are we on board with saying that only one company received the RFP?” Day asked.

Evely refused to agree.

“I know it was emailed out to five companies and I do not know for sure if the other companies did not receive it or if they did receive it and declined to act,” Evely responded. “I’m not going to let you put words in my mouth.”

Todd Wilcox, who is a Unicoi County Commissioner that was not able to make the meeting due to a work conflict, did send a letter that was read by fellow commissioners. In his letter, Wilcox expressed concerns about the way the bid was handled last year. Wilcox had reached out recently to a few ambulance services that had expressed prior interest in bidding, including American Medical Response (AMR.)

AMR Vice President of Operations Chris Blach was in attendance to address the committee last week. Blach expressed interest in bidding and explained that his company could bring in many different services.

“We are 10 times larger than the next ambulance service, so we bring with us a lot of resources,” Blach said of their capabilities.

Blach also mentioned that AMR had 23 air bases statewide and held the three closest air bases near Unicoi County. The closest county to Unicoi County that AMR operates in is Knox County. AMR recently merged with Lifeguard Ambulance Services, who had also previously expressed interest in serving Unicoi County.

Commissioner Jamie Harris asked Blach if AMR was having staffing issues.

“Everyone is having staffing issues,” Blach stated.

It was previously stated by MedicOne Manager Jamie Kemp during a meeting in November 2018 that there is a shortage of paramedics.

“The big thing hurting us right now is personnel,” Kemp previously said. “It’s not just a MedicOne issue, it’s statewide.”

Also during last week’s meeting, MedicOne Operations Manager and former AMR employee Josh Logan expressed concern about the fact that competing companies already know the amount that MedicOne bid and could come in and undercut the price.

According to his letter, Wilcox asked for a special meeting to be called to reconsider the bidding process. Wilcox said he would now like to see the county commission meet to decide if the contract should go back out for bid.

A motion was made to have the called meeting by commissioner and committee member Glenn White and seconded by commissioner and committee member Marie Rice. The motion passed with commissioner and committee member John Mosley opposing.

The special called meeting of the Unicoi County Commission is scheduled for Friday, Jan. 18, at 5 p.m. The meeting will take place in the large courtroom of the Unicoi County Courthouse.

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In other business 911 Committee Chair Bill Hensley expressed concerns about who to call if all of MedicOne’s ambulances were on calls.

Kemp acknowledged that MedicOne could set up a mutual agreement with neighboring counties to serve overflow calls.

It was also announced by Firefighters Association President Robert Adams, that whichever company has the ambulance service contract in April will have 90 days to look for a new frequency to use. Currently, the Firefighters Association allows the ambulance service to use its frequencies.