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Ambulance takeover delayed

The Unicoi County EMS Board of Directors met on Monday, July 6, and discussed the delay in its takeover of ambulance service operations. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Richard Rourk)

By Richard Rourk

The Unicoi County EMS Board of Directors held its first meeting since moving from the Town of Erwin conference room to the Unicoi County EMS Board of Director’s boardroom located at the former Unicoi County Memorial Hospital emergency room.

During the meeting, which was held on Monday, July 6, the board continued to prepare to officially take over as the county’s ambulance service provider from Washington County/Johnson City EMS of Unicoi County.

Unicoi County EMS was supposed to take over as ambulance service provider by July 15, but that date may be delayed by a few weeks until mid-August, according to Unicoi County EMS Executive Director Adam Copas.

“With everything thrown at us this year, if we are able to get the service going in August, it will be a major accomplishment,” Copas said.

Washington County/Johnson City EMS signed a one-year contract to serve as the ambulance provider for Unicoi County beginning on July 15, 2019. The contract was set to expire on July 15, but according to Washington County/Johnson City EMS Executive Director Dan Wheeley it can be extended.

“We are looking at 30-60 days; we will be fine,” Wheeley said.

One of the most recent setbacks to the service is the COVID-19 pandemic.

“COVID-19 has hit us,” Copas said. “We did have an employee test positive for COVID-19. They are feeling better and recovering at home during their time of quarantine. That employee appears to have been exposed away from work, so it does not affect the rest of the employees here. We will continue to social distance and wear masks when possible. We had another employee that has been on vacation and felt bad and is at home self-quarantining until (COVID-19 test) results come back.”

Another setback for the upstart organization occurred when the dealership that was to provide three ambulances to Unicoi County EMS closed.

“It’s difficult when you have someone picked out to purchase vehicles and they unfortunately go out of business,” Copas said.

The funding for the three ambulances is coming from funds that the Town of Erwin and the Board of Controls for the Unicoi County Foundation for Healthcare Inc. has provided. Board of Controls for the Unicoi County Foundation for Healthcare Inc. President Roland Bailey handed Unicoi County EMS Board of Directors a $150,000 check on March 13 to help out with expenses for the startup ambulance service.

According to Unicoi County EMS Board of Directors Chairman John Mosley, the last thing holding the ambulance provider back from starting service is the Medicare subscriber forms. “This is the biggest and last hold up,” Mosley said.

The Medicare subscriber forms allow EMS services to be paid for transportation from those that have Medicare.

According to Copas, the cause of the delay is unknown.

“I’m not sure what the hold up is,” Copas said. “It could be COVID related, but we are reaching out to anyone we can to expedite this.”

Copas acknowledged that U.S. Representative Phil Roe has been notified that paperwork has been delayed to see if it can be pushed through.

“Once we get that response, we are set to take over,” Copas said.

The Unicoi County EMS Board of Directors is scheduled to meet again on Aug. 3 at 3 p.m. inside of the Unicoi County EMS boardroom.