ELIZABETHTON — After a lengthy discussion Monday evening, the Health and Welfare Committee of the Carter County Commission could not reach a decision on entering into a franchise agreement with the Carter County Rescue Squad.
Committee Chairwoman Jo Ann Blankenship provided the panel with the information she had gathered from her research into service provided to other counties and with Robert Nave, the state’s emergency medical service inspector. She said local health providers are satisfied with the squad’s service.
Joy Powers of the Roan Highlands Nursing Home said the squad had a good working relationship with the county’s only nursing home and the personnel who responded were willing to work with difficult patients. She said the squad’s substation in Roan Mountain was important.
Richard Norris, the attorney for the Rescue Squad, offered the committee two possible options he said the board of directors were willing to accept. One was a one-year exclusive contract in which the county would pay a $225,000 subsidy to cover all rescue services, medical transports for jail prisoners, transport of corpses, hazardous materials responses and decontamination of people during methamphetamine operations. The other option was to provide those services without a subsidy but to charge the county for each event.
Norris said that was the same agreement the county had with the squad three years ago, with the exception that the services could then be ended on a 90-day notice. The Carter County Commission had cut the squad’s funding for the past two years, including this year when the funding was cut in order to pay the increased cost for 911 dispatch service. The cuts resulted in the county only funding the rescue squad $104,000 for this year.
Rescue Squad Director Terry Arnold said that was not enough to fund the average of more than 50 rescue missions the squad performs in the county each year.
“I can’t continue to pay out from the ambulance side for the rescue side,” Arnold said.
County Commission Chairman Thomas “Yogi” Bowers said he would like to take bids from other ambulance providers before making a decision.
Mayor Leon Humphrey said time was running out. “I am concerned. We have been talking this out for a year,” he said.
Humphrey said he asked Sheriff Chris Mathes if his department was ready to take over search and rescue operations. He asked Emergency Management Agency director Andrew Worley if he was ready to take over hazardous material responses. Humphrey said if an agreement was not reached by July 1 “there will be people who will perish.”
One provider who would be interested in a bidding process was Ronnie Patterson, who grew up in Carter County and is now a state director with Medic One, which provides ambulance service to Unicoi County.
Patterson told the committee it would be difficult for a new provider to come to Carter County because the Rescue Squad recently signed a five-year agreement for an exclusive franchise with the city of Elizabethton. He said Sycamore Shoals Hospital and all but one of the county’s nursing homes are inside the city. Without that base, he estimated the subsidy for just the county would be three times what the committee wants.
After the lengthy discussion, committee member Robert Gobble made the motion to recommend the squad’s offer to provide service to the county for a year with the $225,000 subsidy. The motion failed because it received only 4 of the 5 required votes. Ken Arney and Ronnie Trivet voted against the motion, while L.C. Tester and Scott Sams were absent.
Following the defeat, a motion was made to place the service out for bids. That measure was defeated by a 3-3 vote. Blankenship, Gobble and Richard Winters voted against the motion.
The committee then voted unanimously to send the matter to the Budget Committee, which meets next week.