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Leaders chosen for new ambulance service

Adam Copas, top photo, has been named the first director of the new Unicoi County EMS ambulance service. Dr. Michael Sutherland, above, will serve as its medical director. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Richard Rourk)

By Richard Rourk

Unicoi County EMS Board of Directors officially named Adam Copas as the first director of the new Unicoi County EMS on May 6.

“We had two candidates and they both interviewed very well, and were excellent interviews,” Unicoi County EMS Board of Directors Chairman John Mosley said.

Copas, who has served a similar role as Washington County/Johnson City EMS of Unicoi County during the past year has accepted the job.

“We made the offer and he accepted,” Mosley said.

For Unicoi County Mayor and EMS board member Garland “Bubba” Evely, the hiring of Copas was a positive sign for the new ambulance service.

“It’s a relief to have our director in place and I’m certain Copas will do a tremendous job,” Evely said.

Unicoi County EMS officially takes over ambulance service in July, but until then Washington County/Johnson City EMS will continue to serve the citizens of Unicoi County. Copas acknowledged that there is a lot to accomplish in a short time span and looks forward to the challenges ahead.

“I think when July comes, we will have our trucks on the road and crews responding to calls,” Copas said. “We want to make sure that we are getting calls and generating the right amount of revenue to remain sustainable.”

Copas said he has several goals in mind.

“From day one, the goal is to expand the EMS service,” Copas said. “We need to place resources throughout the area. We need a station in Unicoi; we need to split our trucks up to manage the most area. Utilizing our resources will be key to our success.”

Copas, who is employed by Washington County/Johnson City EMS until July hopes the two ambulance services will continue a great working relationship into the future.

“One of the most positive things of this will be our relationship with Washington County,” Copas said. “Their resources are abundant, their experience is second-to-none and the knowledge is key for them to be successful. Working with Director (Dan) Wheeley has been paramount in the success over here and we hope to continue that relationship going forward.”

According to Copas, the current staff of Washington County/Johnson City EMS of Unicoi County will transfer to Unicoi County EMS.

“The staff here will stay here,” Copas said. “We have 11 full-time employees and they are exciting and motivated in something they can call their own,” Copas said.

Copas also said he is thankful for the opportunity.

“I appreciate this opportunity and look forward to serving Unicoi County,” Copas said. “I want to thank the three local governments for getting this service established. Mayors Evely, Hensley and Lynch have done a tremendous job. Unicoi County Hospital and Ballad Health have been a tremendous help in anything we have needed. The staff here has been through so much and to see them persevere and grow has been great to see as well.”

The next order of business for Unicoi County EMS will be to secure a state license, which according to Copas, is currently being completed.

• • •

Working with Copas will be Dr. Michael Sutherland, who serves as both the medical director at Unicoi County Hospital and for Unicoi County EMS.

Sutherland recently told The Erwin Record that he is excited to work with both the hospital and ambulance service.

“All EMS personnel in the State of Tennessee have to have a licensed physician to oversee their operations and I will also be responsible for overseeing the development of their protocol,” Sutherland said. “When I was an undergrad at Virginia, I was certified to serve in a rescue squad. I got my EMT License and served as a paramedic until I served my residency in East Tennessee.”

Sutherland is the medical director of Unicoi County Hospital’s emergency services so he interacts with the ambulance services often.

“I have worked closely with Adam Copas and see his staff often at the hospital,” Sutherland said. “The staff that I have interacted with has all been positive, they are well trained. Right now we are working in Washington County/Johnson City EMS’ protocol, so we will have to change some of that with Unicoi County EMS, because in Washington County, you are never really more than 20 minutes away from a hospital, but in our county it can be a long time to get to the hospital. This EMS service will be a positive thing for the entire county.”

According to Sutherland, the first Unicoi County EMS Board of Directors meeting that took place in February was a positive one.

“My first impression of this board is really good. They seem to be very involved and very proactive and that is very important to the success of Unicoi County EMS,” Sutherland said. “I really want to thank Eric Carroll (Unicoi County Hospital administrator and fellow Unicoi County EMS Board of Directors member) and April Jones (Unicoi County Hospital chief nursing officer) for the opportunity to work at the hospital and to be a part of this board.”

For Sutherland, the need for medical research protocols is imperative to the success of Unicoi County EMS.

“My long term goal is to have really sound medical research based protocols and a solid base of people to serve Unicoi County,” Sutherland said. “Growing up in Russell County, Virginia, it was a very rural area, much like Unicoi County, and I’ve always had a passion for rural areas. It’s actually more important to have better-trained physicians and EMTs in rural areas because you don’t have the support that larger areas do in regards to tools; so we have to be comfortable to handle whatever comes our way.”