John Day expresses concerns to Mayor Garland “Bubba” Evely regarding the Unicoi County Commission’s recent decision to retain MedicOne as the county’s ambulance service provider. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Richard Rourk)

By Richard Rourk

Old wounds resurfaced during a meeting between Unicoi County Mayor Garland “Bubba” Evely and concerned citizens who were seeking answers to the bidding process for the current ambulance service in Unicoi County.

The citizens, led by John Day, met with Evely on Thursday, Jan. 3, to discuss the contract renewal with MedicOne that was approved by the Unicoi County Commission during its Dec. 19 meeting. According to Day, the bare minimum was done by the county in the request for proposal process.

During the Dec. 19 meeting, the Commission voted to approve the bid from MedicOne, in a 6-2 vote with Commission Chairman Loren Thomas abstaining. County Commissioner and Ambulance Committee Chairman John Mosley made the motion to approve the contract and Commissioner Jamie Harris seconded the motion. County commissioners Mosley, Jamie Harris, Glenn White, Todd Wilcox, Matthew Rice and Stephen Hendrix voted to approve a new contract with MedicOne. Commissioner Marie Rice and Commissioner Jason Harris voted no to the contract.

The contract, which would run from April 2019 until April of 2023, calls for an annual subsidy of $225,000 to be paid by the county to MedicOne. The new contract calls for three ambulances instead of two, which is what the previous contract called for. The ambulances will all be Type 1 ambulances which allow for enough room for up to two people. Two of the ambulances will be staffed 24 hours a day and seven days a week. The third ambulance will run on a 12-hour shift for seven days a week. MedicOne is currently running a third part-time ambulance in preparation for the new contract.

Inside Evely’s office on Thursday, Jan. 3, Day, who was a candidate for county mayor in 2018, referenced the loss of his friend, former Unicoi County Commissioner and Unicoi County School Board member Dwight Bennett who passed away in 2014, when addressing the mayor. Bennett passed away from cardiac arrest while waiting for an ambulance.

“Mr. Mayor this does not serve the county, we deserve better,” Day stated.

Day questioned the bid process and stated that there were three other ambulance services that expressed interest to Day in bidding to serve Unicoi County. According to Day, American Medical Response (AMR) and Lifeguard Ambulance Service are two services that expressed interest.

“We need the best there is,” Day said of the ambulance service options for Unicoi County.

Evely acknowledged the concerns and thanked everyone for coming. Evely informed the citizens of the upcoming Ambulance Committee Meeting on Thursday, Jan. 10, at 4 p.m.

“I invite you to bring those concerns to that meeting,” Evely stated.

As of the Jan 3 meeting the new contract had not been sent out to MedicOne. Day and fellow concerned citizen Jim Donnelly requested that Evely hold off sending the contract and consider vetoing  the December vote by the Commission.

“We would feel better knowing that you would hold off on sending the contract until we can address the commission,” Donnelly said to the mayor.

“The contract has been approved by the Commission and I held off sending the contract for a few days to have this meeting,” Evely stated.

As far as the veto goes, Evely was opposed to vetoing anything that the majority of the Commission approved.

“If the majority of the commission says to send the contract out and the county attorney states I can, I will send the contract out,” Evely said.

Day stated that if he had to, he would take legal recourse.

“I will make an injunction if I have to, this is not going to happen,” Day stated.

Unicoi County Commission Chairman Loren Thomas talked to The Erwin Record on Friday, Jan. 4, in regards to ambulance services. Thomas acknowledged the majority of the current Commission feels good about the new contract. Thomas’ wife is an employee of MedicOne.

“The option that we chose was with MedicOne, and it was the best option,” Thomas stated.

Thomas explained why he believes MedicOne was the best option.

“To ensure that the contract was best, we made sure that there are penalties for not abiding to the contract,” Thomas told The Erwin Record.

According to Thomas, the Unicoi County Ambulance Committee will meet regularly to oversee the contract. Thomas stated that the next meeting will be to come up with an action plan to combat issues of the overflow of emergency calls.

“We are going to work to nail down procedures in case all three ambulances are on call,” Thomas said. “We have to staff according to call data, but we wish to set up an emergency plan in case all three ambulances are on a call.”

The next Unicoi County Ambulance Committee meeting is set for Thursday, Jan. 10, at 4 p.m. and will be held at the conference room at the Unicoi County Courthouse.