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Unicoi County Commission lays groundwork for county-run ambulance operation

Unicoi County Mayor Garland “Bubba” Evely, left, and Unicoi County Commissioner Stephen Hendrix listen to discussion during the Nov. 20 Unicoi County Ambulance Committee meeting. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Richard Rourk)

By Richard Rourk

The Unicoi County Ambulance Committee voted unanimously on Wednesday, Nov. 20, to put a request to establish a county-run ambulance service before the full Unicoi County Commission on Monday, Nov. 25.

During the commission’s meeting on Monday, the panel voted unanimously to establish a county-run ambulance service and to allow Unicoi County Mayor Garland “Bubba” Evely and Unicoi County Attorney Doug Shults to seek out the next steps to establish a corporation. The unanimous vote came following a motion made by Unicoi County Ambulance Committee Chairman John Mosley and a second by Unicoi County Commissioner Jason Harris.

According to Evely, this vote allows the county to move forward in starting a service.

“This puts us on the path to getting our own service started,” Evely said on Monday.

The new service, if established, should begin on July 1, 2020, after the county’s contract with Washington County/Johnson City EMS ends.

Unicoi County entered into a one-year contract with Washington County/Johnson City EMS to serve as the ambulance service for all of Unicoi County in July 2019. Unicoi County agreed to pay an annual subsidy of $218,677 for the service.

According to Washington County/Johnson City EMS Executive Director Dan Wheeley, the subsidy of $218,677 is what Washington County/Johnson City EMS projected it would cost yearly if Unicoi County was to start its own ambulance service.

The ambulance committee made its decision on Nov. 20 following numbers presented by Washington County/Johnson City EMS Executive Director Dan Wheeley.

“We had 203 calls in July, 324 calls in August, 323 calls in September and 320 calls in October,” Wheeley said. “As of today the revenue per transport is $292 and the number of transports if call volume holds is 2,930 (projected transports) which would result in cash posted of $855,560. There will be a fair amount of startup expenses going forward which are difficult to estimate and will be one time expenses. The call volume may go up or down slightly and revenue per run may fluctuate slightly as well.”

Wheeley went on to state that with the limited timeframe of data that he is hesitant of projecting where the numbers will be by June 30, 2020, when Washington County’s contract ends. Wheeley also recommended that if the county, the Town of Erwin and the Town of Unicoi were looking at starting their own joint ambulance service they should create a corporation.

“My recommendation would be if all three municipalities were looking to start an ambulance service together a joint venture and corporation is the way to go,” Wheeley said.

According to Wheeley, as a corporation, a board with each entity represented will have balanced decision making with the service.

“The good times are shared and the bad times are shared,” Wheeley said.

Wheeley advised that if the municipalities all agreed to have a joint corporation that a board of directors made up of five to seven members be established.

“I would recommend a board that includes the medical director, a healthcare partner representative and reps from each of the three municipalities,” Wheeley said.

Unicoi County Commissioner Matthew Rice said he would like to see the county-run service become a corporation with a board of directors.

“I think it’s important going forward that we establish a corporation with a board of directors,” Matthew Rice said.

According to Unicoi County Commissioner Glenn White, the county should be reaching out to see what the next move would be to establish a board.

“We are just getting to first base right now,” White said. 

Mosley acknowledged that this was a big step forward for the county.

“I think this was a good vote for the county and we are now moving in the right direction to better serve the citizens of Unicoi County,” Mosley told The Erwin Record. “This allows us to establish a county-run service that can be handed over to a board once one is created.”

The Unicoi County Commission will meet with the other municipalities at a later date to discuss the joint venture.