Unicoi County Mayor Garland “Bubba” Evely addresses the Unicoi County Commission on Monday, July 22. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Richard Rourk)

By Richard Rourk

The creation of the Unicoi County Rescue Squad took a major step forward during the Unicoi County Commission meeting that took place at the Unicoi County Courthouse on Monday, July 22.

The commission voted unanimously to allow the Unicoi County Rescue Squad to operate inside the county limits as long as the rescue squad follows EMS state guidelines. The motion to approve the request was made by Unicoi County Commissioner Todd Wilcox and was seconded by Unicoi County Commissioner Stephen Hendrix.

The next hurdle for the rescue squad to overcome is approval by Washington County/Johnson City EMS, the ambulance provider for Unicoi County; however, according to Wilcox, that hurdle has been cleared.

“Washington County/Johnson City EMS Executive Director Dan Wheeley is on board as long as the rescue squad follows state guidelines,” Wilcox said. “They (the Unicoi County Rescue Squad) are chartered and clearing this commission allows them to go forward and start fundraising efforts.”

Wheeley could not be reached by The Erwin Record for confirmation.

Following the meeting, Unicoi County Rescue Squad Lieutenant AEMT Jim Hady spoke to The Erwin Record about the organization.

“This allows us to start fundraising efforts,” Hady said. “It will be a long road. We will not start overnight. We are not looking to interfere with the ambulance service. We are looking to work with them and fill a hole in medical care.”

In March, Captain/AEMT Adam Blankenship announced the chartering and establishment of the Unicoi County Rescue Squad, Inc. According to the squad’s charter, the mission of the new rescue squad is to provide medical response (assisting EMS) and rescue services to the citizens of all communities in Unicoi County, the Town of Erwin and Town of Unicoi.

Along with fundraising, the newly chartered rescue squad will be seeking to get licensed by John Dabbs, regional coordinator for EMS Licensing.

“We also have to come up with funding to get insured,” Hady said.

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The commission also took steps to find a home for the ambulance service. Washington County/Johnson City EMS officially took over as the county’s ambulance service provider on July 15.

On Monday, the panel voted unanimously to allow Evely and Unicoi County Attorney Doug Shults to engage in negotiations with the property owner Kathryn Mitchel Phillips for the property at 1501 North Main Avenue, in Erwin for a month-to-month lease.

The property currently houses Unicoi County’s ambulance service – Washington County/Johnson City EMS. The motion to allow Evely and Shults to negotiate a contract with the property owner and bring the contract back for the commission to vote on during the called Aug. 6 meeting was made by White and was seconded by Jamie Harris.

“We need to know what we are looking at before we sign a contract,” Jamie Harris said.

The commission also voted to follow a recommendation by the Unicoi County Building and Grounds Committee to negotiate with the Unicoi County Memorial Hospital Health, Inc. Board to lease property at the former Unicoi County Memorial Hospital building for the ambulance service.

The property, which is now home to Unicoi County Christian Care Center, includes two suites and a stand-alone garage on the back of the building that could house the ambulance service.

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Moving on, the commission voted to add several more items to the special called commission budget meeting scheduled for Aug. 6.

The first item was a motion to table the request to pay four employees the difference in pay that they received by transferring from MedicOne to Washington County/Johnson City EMS. The Unicoi County Ambulance Committee voted unanimously on July 3 to propose that Unicoi County cover the loss of hourly pay that the four employees that stayed with MedicOne and transferred over to Washington County/Johnson City EMS would accrue by moving services. The proposed cost for the county to cover the pay difference for the employees would be roughly $13,000 for the year.

On July 22, Unicoi County Commissioner Marie Rice pointed out that the revenues accrued by the new ambulance service may cover the costs.

“Revenues from the ambulance service may be higher than expected to cover that cost,” she said.

Hendrix agreed.

“We would only assume the costs if there is a debt,” Hendrix said.

Unicoi County Commissioner Glenn White was adamant that the commission get the numbers right and pay the employees and he made a motion to table the vote until the Aug. 6 special called meeting. This extra time will allow Unicoi County Mayor Garland “Bubba” Evely to retrieve the most up to date numbers.

“They have been through so much and have been so loyal, we need to pay them,” White said. Marie Rice seconded the motion to allow Evely to present the information to the commission on Aug. 6.