In a series of quick actions, the commission authorized the termination of the county’s interlocal ambulance service agreements with the towns of Erwin and Unicoi, approved MedicOne Medical Response’s “emergency provision” of service until a new provider is secured and authorized the advertisement of a request for information to gauge the interest of other providers.
County Attorney Doug Shults told the commission termination of the county's interlocal agreements with Erwin and Unicoi would essentially "hit the restart button."
The rapid succession of unanimous votes came in a called meeting scheduled in the wake of MedicOne’s April 2 notice that, after months of negotiations and an intervening citizen’s lawsuit, the company would not enter its pending contract with the county but would remain in service here until a new provider is in place.
The MedicOne notice arrived one day after the new contract was to take effect and two days after the company’s former contract with the county expired. MedicOne attributed the decision to the company’s inability to staff three ambulances required by the new contract due to a statewide shortage of emergency medical technicians and “incessant attacks” on the company by local media.
MedicOne has since stopped bringing staff members to Erwin from its operations in Knoxville, leaving its staff here at about 75 percent of the EMTs and paramedics needed to operate and the remaining staff working extra shifts.
Last week, county commissioners met with the mayors and aldermen from the two towns and the executive director of the neighboring Washington County/Johnson City EMS service to discuss options, including a short-term service agreement with Washington County and the search for a new contracted provider.
The WC/JC EMS board met later in the day on April 9 and authorized Executive Director Dan Wheeley to continue discussions of assistance to Unicoi County.
Wheeley told the Washington County board that he did not know what ambulance revenues were generated in Unicoi County because MedicOne refuses to provide those numbers, but that representatives of some of the largest ambulance companies in the nation had attended the Unicoi County meeting earlier in the day and “would not have been in small Erwin for a tax writeoff.”
The Unicoi County Ambulance Committee will meet today to draft a new request for contract proposals. The full commission’s consideration of the advertisement of the request for proposals on a contract is scheduled for April 22.
Ambulance Committee Chairman John Mosley said responses to the request for information will be due back in two weeks.