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Unicoi County ambulance committee moving forward on dual fronts

Sue Guinn Legg • Apr 11, 2018 at 11:34 PM

ERWIN — The Unicoi County Commission Ambulance Committee is hedging its bets on the future of the county’s ambulance service, simultaneously preparing a request for bids from contracted providers and continuing to pursue grant funding for a service operated by the county.

Now within one year of the April 1, 2019, expiration of the county’s contract with MedicOne Medical Response, the committee members on Wednesday agreed on the need to move quickly with the bid request, and even more quickly on efforts to launch a county-operated service.

While the economic feasibility of a county-operated service remained a point of debate — one commissioner said the service will “bankrupt the county” — the purchase of land and construction of a station was favored by committee members on both sides of the argument.

Opponents and proponents of the county service and those exploring both possibilities all saw the ownership of a new station as plus, either for the leverage it will provide in negotiating with contracted providers or for its benefit to a publicly owned service.

Commissioner Ken Garland, who has spent several months in search of centrally located property to buy for the station, said providing good ambulance service the single most important thing the commission can do for the county.

Commissioner Todd Wilcox, who has been researching other Tennessee counties’ experience with larger ambulance service providers, said he did not see how the county could cover the cost of running its own service without help from the towns of Erwin and Unicoi, and told Garland the service could bankrupt the county.

Commission Chairwoman Marie Rice and Mayor Greg Lynch pointed to other Tennessee counties that are operating ambulance services in the black. And Rice said there are counties she has looked that are applying their ambulance service revenues to their county’s general funds which is causing their service expenditures to look like large losses.

With the MedOne contract to expire in less than 12 months, Committee Chairman Jason Harris, Rice, Lynch, Garland and Wilcox all noted the pressing time element.

Rice said she has been told “six months would be pushing it” to get a new service up and running.

Harris asked that all the commissioners review the county’s request for contract proposals and submit any changes they desire in the proposal before next Friday’s committee meeting so that the bidding process can be completed in July.

In an update on the $440,000 community block grant awarded to the town of Erwin for the purchase of three ambulances before town leaders opted not to move forward with a town run service, Lynch said the First Tennessee Development District communication with state officials indicates the grant can be transferred to the county.

Lynch said the process will require a survey of resident income levels on north and south ends of the county outside of Erwin that is estimated to take about two months to complete.

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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