By Richard Rourk
Unicoi County has officially begun a transition to a new ambulance service.
According to Unicoi County Mayor Garland “Bubba” Evely, Washington County/Johnson City EMS was slated to take over for MedicOne on July 1, but that could be delayed a few weeks.
“When we met, Mr. Wheeley (Washington County/Johnson City EMS Executive Director Dan Wheeley) was looking at July 1 to start, but he said he wanted to make as seamless of a transition, so it may take another week or two to make sure our staffing levels are on target,” Evely said. “We are just finalizing the details at the moment.”
Following a June 19 meeting between Wheeley and current MedicOne employees, Evely also confirmed that MedicOne will remain serving Unicoi County until Washington County/Johnson City EMS officially takes over.
“Mr. Wheeley also confirmed that he spoke to (MedicOne CEO Jim Reeves) and that Mr. Reeves is committed to serving Unicoi County until Washington County/Johnson City EMS will take over,” Evely said.
According to Evely, Washington County/Johnson City EMS will be looking to keep the current MedicOne employees and add more employees to staff the ambulance services in Unicoi County.
“Right now there are nine full-time employees with MedicOne, and I know that Washington County was looking to staff 14 total employees,” Evely said.
According to Washington County/Johnson City EMS’s job board, the EMS service is hiring for Unicoi County.
Unicoi County Ambulance Committee Chairman and County Commissioner John Mosley wanted to dispel any rumors about staffing.
“There’s a rumor that four (current MedicOne) employees have quit, and that is not true,” Mosley said. “They are on the fence, but still with the ambulance service.”
In regards to the transition, Mosley stated that he felt good about the transfer of the ambulance service.
“The transition is going very smoothly at this point,” Mosley said. “We look to have a full staff and with a full staff comes better service.”
According to Mosley, the MedicOne employees that are retained will receive a slight pay cut; however, the benefits package offered by Washington County/Johnson City EMS is better and should even out the cut in pay, according to Mosley.
“From what I know, pay from Washington County is a little less per hour, but the benefits and insurance make it about even,” Mosley said. “Where an employee has to pay for their insurance at MedicOne, there is no cost for the employee at Washington County. That is a savings of around $140 a paycheck.”
Mosley also acknowledged that Washington County/Johnson City EMS has a state-run retirement program.
“If we’re to go to a county-run ambulance service following this one-year agreement with Washington County, the retirement would carry over,” Mosley said.
Evely said that he is looking forward to working with Washington County/Johnson City EMS. “I’m excited about it,” Evely said.
“I feel that we have a good start to take a hard look at what it will cost to run our own service,” Evely added.
Unicoi County Commission Chairman Loren Thomas agreed with Evely.
“I am excited about the partnership we have with Dan Wheeley and his staff,” Thomas said. Thomas also expressed hopes that this partnership will give the county time to prepare to create Unicoi County run service.
“This agreement will provide our citizens with excellent ambulance service and will serve as a gateway to us starting our own county-run service,” Thomas said. “There is a tremendous amount of work to be done over the next several months in order for us to be successful, but we are all on board to make this work.”
The Erwin Record reached out to Washington County/Johnson City EMS Executive Director Dan Wheeley for comment, but he was not available for comment.