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Ambulance RFP finalized

A request for proposal (RFP) will be issued this week by Unicoi County for ambulance services.
During meetings on Monday, Feb. 2, and Wednesday, Jan. 28, members of the Unicoi County Commission’s Ambulance Service Committee reviewed the 2011 RFP, which was used to choose a provider the last time the county was searching for ambulance services.
This committee is chaired by Jason Harris. Other members of the committee are Commission Chairwoman Marie Rice and Commissioner Gene Wilson.
Issuing an RFP is the result of the county and MedicOne – the company that has provided ambulance services to the county since 2011 – failing to reach an agreement to renew MedicOne’s contract.
The County Commission voted 5-3 during its Jan. 26 meeting to authorize the ambulance committee and Mayor Greg Lynch to develop the RFP and request bids for ambulance services in Unicoi County. Voting to put the ambulance service contract out for bid were Marie Rice, Walter Garland, Jason Harris, Kenneth Garland and Gene Wilson. Voting not to put the contract out for bid were Loren Thomas, John Mosley and Glenn White. Bridget Peters was absent from the meeting.
MedicOne’s contract ends April 1, which means the county must find a new ambulance service before that date or request assistance from surrounding counties to provide ambulance coverage until a new ambulance service is hired by the county.
One commissioner said during Monday’s meeting that he believes the county will have a new ambulance service provider in place before the deadline.
“The county is going to supply an ambulance service before April 1,” Wilson said. “We just have to do what the law says. With MedicOne, if they had (requested a subsidy) of zero or less than $10,000 we wouldn’t be here. But, anything over $10,000 has to go out for bid. We just did what our lawyer advised us to do. That is why we are here today.”
Rice said that Carter County’s emergency medical services director has pledged to assist Unicoi County if there are problems with finding an ambulance service provider before the deadline.
Erwin Mayor Doris Hensley then expressed concerns over the county being without its own ambulance service provider.
“In the last two weeks we had two incidents where we had to have ambulances to our residents,” Hensley said. “MedicOne did not have an ambulance available at that time because they were already on an emergency call. We did get backup from Carter County, but it took them 59 minutes to get here.
“The other one, there was no ambulance available from Carter County or Washington County, so we had to wait until we had a local one available,” Hensley continued. “That’s not acceptable. … This person was laying in the floor. I just don’t think that the ideal plan is to depend on another county to back us up. They might back us up and they might not. It might be two hours before they can get to us. I think our citizens deserve better than that.”
Wilson then said he believes the county will have an ambulance service in place by April 1.
Unicoi County Mayor Greg Lynch told the committee that MedicOne CEO Jim Reeves has said his company would help the county through the transition to a new ambulance service. Another MedicOne official has also said the company would aid with the transition.
“If you do decide to put it out for bid, we will help you make the transition, but we will not be bidding,” Daryl Gibson, vice-president of business development for MedicOne, said during the Jan. 22 meeting of the Ambulance Committee.
Gibson also said during that meeting that his company would not be bidding to provide ambulance services in the county.
“You have made it known that MedicOne is not what you’re looking for,” Gibson said on Jan. 22. “If you go out for bid you’re saying you’re not completely satisfied with what you have … It’s not being stubborn. … We are going to be responsible stewards and help you through your transition.”
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The final RFP, which was unanimously approved on Feb. 2, details what the county expects from the companies who plan to submit proposals to be the county’s next ambulance service provider.
According to the RFP reviewed on Monday, it will be released on Wednesday, Feb. 4. The deadline to submit bid is Feb. 19 at noon. The bids will be opened at 1 p.m. that day. The Ambulance Committee is then scheduled to hear oral presentations from the bidders beginning at 4 p.m. on Feb. 19. These presentations could continue the following day, if needed.
The RFP requests that bidders include background information, such as qualifications and experience of the company, as well as its organizational size and history. Also requested are the qualifications and experience of the company’s management, the company’s policies and procedures and physician input in operations.
Also included in the RFP is a section on the scope of services expected by the county. This includes, as stated in the RFP, having “two Advance Life Support units on duty 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year” as well as having “a minimum of one Advanced Life Support or Basic Life Support Ambulance available as needed to respond to call volumes.”
Unicoi County Emergency Management Director Ed Herndon told the committee on Monday that an Advance Life Support (ALS) unit must have at least one paramedic on it, which a Basic Life Support Ambulance has two emergency management technicians.
Whether to require adding a third ambulance during peak hours was debated for some time during Monday’s meeting. Several individuals felt a third ambulance should be required, but others said although they would prefer to require three that would most likely increase the cost of the bid.
“What kind of price tag do you put on a life,” Lynch said during this discussion.
Regarding this issue, Erwin Police Chief Regan Tilson suggested to the committee that they require bidders to describe their emergency or critical incident plans.
“When you have one multi-car crash and you take both of those ALS units out and then we have a problem at a school or a plant, what is the emergency plan for us to get medical help to the people who may need it most at that moment,” Tilson said. “If there is no emergency plan, then we do have a serious problem. Of course, we will have mutual aid support (from surrounding counties) coming, but when I wait an hour on an ambulance, that’s unacceptable any time. We could have a serious issue with that.
“In their emergency plan, are they calling people in off duty?” Tilson continued. “Do they have trucks available? … These things happen more frequently than you think. Just one two-car crash can tie up every asset you have and you’re just praying that you don’t have another significant event that requires medical trauma.”
The committee decided to require bidders to discuss their emergency plans during oral presentations.
Also as part of the scope of services, the committee chose to ask bidders to provide costs for locating ambulance stations in both the Town of Unicoi area and the south Town of Erwin area, as well as locating a station in a centralized location.
Changed from the 2011 RFP was the county’s commitment to provide quarters for the ambulance service. Now, the ambulance service must provide its own quarters.
Just as in the 2011 RFP, the new RFP states that all emergency calls will continue to be dispatched by Unicoi County 911.
The RFP also requests that the company who is awarded the bid hire “Unicoi County personnel who are familiar with the geography of the roads, residents and other landmarks of the county in order to promote efficient responses to requests of emergency ambulance services.”
The scope of services also require bidders to maintain an advanced life support rating. The bidders also cannot “refuse service to any medically necessary patient, at any time, for any reason,” according to the RFP.
The RFP also requires bidders to have at least $1 million in liability insurance and to provide a performance bond of $150,000.
The length of the contract, according to the RFP, is from the time the contract is awarded until April 15, 2019.
Included in the RFP is a clause which allows the county to renew the contract for an additional four years at the end of this contract for an amount that does not exceed the subsidy, if any, awarded in this contract.
County Attorney Doug Shults said this was included in the contract in order to avoid the situation the county found itself in when determining whether or not to renew its contract with MedicOne.