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Erwin ambulance grant still on the table

Sue Guinn Legg • Mar 22, 2018 at 8:32 AM

The Unicoi County Commission’s Ambulance Committee went back to the drawing board Wednesday in its efforts to provide a public ambulance service for the county, now without a previously planned partnership with the town of Erwin.

But that drawing board looks a bit better thanks to some good news . 

County Mayor Greg Lynch offered the committee members a ray of hope on the expected loss of a $440,000 grant awarded to the town for the purchase of ambulances that came with the Erwin Board of Mayor and Aldermen’s recent rejection of the proposed partnership.

According to Lynch, the First Tennessee Development District, which is administering the grant, is working on plan through which the county might be able to provide the required grant match funding that would allow the town to buy the ambulances and transfer them to the county.

Mayor Doris Hensley said the grant requires 75 percent of the calls answered by the ambulances to be made inside Erwin, which is in keeping with calls made for the current contracted EMS provider, MedicOne Medical Response.

“I don’t see a problem, if the county pays the match and insurance. The ambulances could be used to answer calls in in Erwin and outside of Erwin as needed,” Hensley said.

Lynch said FTDD has already taken the first step in asking for an extension of the grant to allow time for the plan to be developed.

“It’s a good possibility the county can go forward with the ambulances and get them into service as the plan develops,” Lynch said. The timing will depend on the FTDD template. I think it’s a good chance we will be able to break away from depending on corporate providers.”

Reviewing the county’s history with contracted providers, Lynch said the county had one company that notified the county they were pulling out immediately and, over the past four years, has had problems with MedicOne failing to provide adequate ambulances and staff to answer the county’s calls for service.

“If we go to another corporate (provider), there will always be the question ‘are they going pull ambulances and staff from here to other places where they have problems?’ because it’s corporate and a corporate world runs on profit.”

Commissioner John Mosely said the problem will be the wages required to retain a well-trained staff. He noted that when Johnson City raised its paramedic pay to more than $17 an hour, Unicoi County lost two paramedics.

Commission Chairwoman Marie Rice agreed that the service must be prepared to pay schooled professionals and expressed optimism that competitive wages will be possible if the service can be operated in the black and become its own entity.

Hensley reminded the committee they have $250,000 in local hospital foundation grant funding to begin operations and another $150,000 that can be borrowed from the foundation if needed. “You need to keep those wages up there so we can get good people and keep them, wages and benefits,” Hensley said.

Rice, who has been active with other committee members in a search for land for an EMS station, said the grant funding presents the county with “a one-time opportunity” and should be used to get the service up and running rather than for land and buildings.

“This is our only opportunity. And what do we have to show for the $1,248,000 we have paid out over the past eight years?” Rice said, referencing the county’s accumulated EMS contract fees.

Commissioner Gene Wilson said the new service will not require a tax increase. “The county has money. We have the money to do this and be alright without a tax increase,” Wilson said.

 

Email Sue Guinn Legg at slegg@johnsoncitypress.com. Follow her on Twitter @sueleggjcpress. Like her on Facebook at facebook.com/sueleggjcpress.

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