By Richard Rourk
Representatives of the proposed Unicoi County EMS reached out to invite another municipality to join the startup ambulance service.
During a regular meeting of the Town of Unicoi Board of Mayor and Aldermen on Monday, Dec. 16, Unicoi County Mayor Garland “Bubba” Evely was joined by Unicoi County Attorney Doug Shults and Washington County/Johnson City EMS Unicoi County Operations Director Lt. Adam Copas in presenting the BMA a proposal for joining an interlocal agreement.
“The recommendation by our Ambulance Committee was to start a 501c3 corporate run service and the county commission is voting on that tonight,” Evely said Monday.
Later Monday evening, the Unicoi County Commission voted unanimously to approve that a 501c3 corporation be established and that an interlocal agreement be prepared determining each local governments’ level of participation. The Town of Erwin voted unanimously to enter into an interlocal agreement in principle with the county in creating the Unicoi County EMS during Erwin’s Dec. 9 BMA meeting.
“If you join us, we are looking at taking the next step by creating a board of directors that will consist of two members from each municipality, Unicoi County Hospital director (Eric Carroll) Unicoi County Emergency Management director (Ed Herndon) and a member at large,” Evely said to the Unicoi BMA on Monday. “We are hoping to be self-sufficient and that is our goal, but that cannot be guaranteed. If there is a shortfall, we can decide how that will be funded by those who sign the interlocal agreement.”
Town of Unicoi Alderwoman Kathy Bullen questioned if the new ambulance service will be like the current ambulance service provided by Washington County/Johnson City EMS.
“Will this new service be mirrored after the success of the current service?” Bullen asked.
According to Evely, Unicoi County EMS will be similar to the way Washington County/Johnson City EMS is set up.
“That’s what the model is. Washington County/Johnson City EMS is set up as a 501c3 corporation complete with a board of directors. That is what we have mirrored our proposal from; it’s worked out really well for them,” Evely said. “We are not looking to reinvent the wheel.”
Bullen expressed concerns about reimbursement for the ambulance service.
“I believe that reimbursement from services is an issue,” Bullen said. “It’s just a thorn in the side.”
Copas agreed with Bullen but explained that Unicoi County is not that far from Washington County/Johnson City EMS’ reimbursement numbers.
“For a rural area like this, a lot of our reimbursement comes from Medicare and Medicaid. As far as reimbursement from self-pay, that is our lowest form of reimbursement,” Copas said. “Our data is really starting to come in, after the first 90 days of service we are looking at a 49 percent reimbursement rate. We are looking at that number to increase by single digits in percentage points in the next few months until we hit that concrete number that we should be at, which is in the low to mid-50s. Washington County’s rate is somewhere around that.”
Evely also presented the Unicoi BMA with an alternate option on Monday.
“If you do not want to be involved with the management, we can do a franchise agreement that will allow Unicoi County EMS to serve within the Town of Unicoi’s limits,” Evely said.
The Unicoi BMA decided to create a committee to explore the proposal.
“I think we should create a committee made up of aldermen (Jeff) Linville, Kathy (Bullen), (Town of Unicoi City Recorder) Debbie Kessler and Town of Unicoi Attorney Lois Shults-Davis to look into this,” Town of Unicoi Mayor Johnny Lynch said.
Evely asked the Unicoi BMA to be considerate of the time constraints the county is under moving forward.
“The only thing I respectfully ask of your committee is that you meet us as soon as you can, because we cannot move forward with the 501c3 until we establish the board and before we establish a board we need to know who is participating with us,” Evely said. “We would like to get this pushed forward in January – time is of the essence.”
Evely welcomed the Town of Unicoi to join in the joint workshop that will be held Monday, Dec. 30, at 5 p.m. at Erwin Town Hall.
“We have a meeting on Dec. 30,” Evely said. “If you knew something by then, that would be great.”