Washington County/Johnson City EMS Executive Director Dan Wheeley announces a July 15 takeover date to the Unicoi County Ambulance Committee. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Richard Rourk)

By Richard Rourk

It was announced during the July 3, Unicoi County Ambulance Committee meeting that Washington County/Johnson City EMS will officially take over ambulance service in Unicoi County on Monday, July 15. It was also revealed that Washington County/Johnson City EMS Lieutenant and Training Coordinator Adam Copas will serve as Director of Operations for Washington County/Johnson City EMS in Unicoi County.

Copas said he is excited to serve Unicoi County.

“We are going to establish an excellent standard of work and build for the future,” Copas said. Washington County/Johnson City EMS Executive Director Dan Wheeley is also ready to serve the community.

“We are excited that we can help, and long term we hope that the county can establish their own service,” Wheeley said. “We are working on the transition now. We are currently hiring and looking at the logistics of serving Unicoi.”

During last week’s meeting, Wheeley addressed concerns about the pay difference for employees that will be coming to Washington County/Johnson City EMS from MedicOne.

“Our original proposal was based on our pay and benefits,” Wheeley said.

According to the interlocal agreement, Washington County/Johnson City EMS will provide and maintain adequate and sufficiently trained staff that possess all required licenses and certifications. Washington County/Johnson City EMS will provide two advanced life-support paramedic ambulance units 24 hours a day, 365 days per year. In addition, Washington County/Johnson City EMS will provide one staffed basic life support ambulance for 10 hours a day, five days a week. This basic life support ambulance will run Monday through Friday. Unicoi County will pay a subsidy of $218,677, that covers all services and employee pay.

The concerns about pay was brought to Unicoi County Mayor Garland “Bubba” Evely.

“We had some employees concerned about starting rate of pay on the hourly rate,” Evely said. “We do understand that Washington County has better rates on insurance and a state retirement plan.”

According to Wheeley, his staff has crunched the numbers and for nine employees to transition from MedicOne, the county’s previous ambulance service provider, to Washington County/Johnson City EMS and maintaining existing pay rates it could cost roughly $20,000. “Worst case scenario with nine employees to keep them at the same spot it with be roughly $20,000 more,” Wheeley said.

Wheeley acknowledged that Washington County/Johnson City EMS’ pay is on par with other ambulance services in the region.

“There was a study three years ago and everybody in the region is pretty comparable, in regards to pay,” Wheeley said.

Ambulance Committee Chairman and Unicoi County Commissioner John Mosley announced that there are only five employees who plan to stay in Unicoi County as it moves from MedicOne to Washington County/Johnson City EMS.

“There are only five looking to move over, so by those numbers we are looking at around $12,000-13,000 to keep those five employees pay what it is now,” Mosley said.

During last week’s meeting, Unicoi County Commissioner Glenn White made a motion to present the proposed $13,000 to be paid by Unicoi County at the next Unicoi County Commission meeting on July 22.

“These employees have been through a lot,” White said.

Town of Erwin Vice Mayor Mark Lafever, who also serves on the ambulance committee, seconded the motion.

“I want to see what’s best for the county, and we (Erwin) are with you on this one,” Lafever said. The committee voted unanimously to send the request to keep the five employees’ pay the same before the full commission during the July 22 meeting.