Unicoi County EMS board hits the ground running, service trends favor solid start

Sue Guinn Legg • Feb 26, 2020 at 12:00 AM

ERWIN — The new Unicoi County EMS Board of Control completed its nine-member roster and came out of the chute swinging, squaring away several key orders of business at its first meeting on Monday.

And in a Tuesday meeting of the inter-local ambulance task force overseeing the county’s temporary ambulance service agreement with Washington County/Johnson City EMS, stable and upward-trending call volumes, collections and financial reports were favorable to a successful start for the new service later this year.

At the EMS board meeting on Monday, County Commissioner John Mosley, who serves as chairman of the County Commission's Ambulance Committee, was elected chairman of the new board and Erwin Mayor Doris Hensley was elected vice-chair.

Unicoi County Mayor Garland “Bubba” Evely named Bryan Merritt the at-large member of the board and Dr. Micheal Sutherland completed the board makeup after a vote for his employment as medical director of the new EMS service.

Monday’s meeting also included the board’s approval of a package of bylaws for the service and an update on the progress of its application for licensing.

Tuesday's informational task force meeting included several key reports from Adam Copas, with the Washington County/Johnson City EMS service, who is overseeing ambulance operations in Unicoi County.

Over the past 30 days, Copas said, the service responded to 340 ambulance calls in the county of which 84% were hospital transports, or 4% more than the service’s goal of 80 percent transport calls. Those calls are favored because of their more-dependable collection rates.

Call volumes were trending at 340 to 350 calls per month over the past several months, which Copas said is in keeping with the service’s resources, but a figure that needs to be monitored closely to prevent those resources from being overextended.

Collection rates were at 57.7 percent, or just below the targeted 58%, and were expected to remain stable at that level.

The average reimbursement per call over the past 30 days was $244, compared to $319 during the prior 30-day period and to the $272 estimated reimbursement per call used to set the budget for the temporary service agreement.

Total revenues for the seven-month period were $567,393, including a $100,000 initial contribution from the county required to launch the temporary service.

“Overall, it’s been very stable over the past 60 to 90 days and we expect it will be very stable over the next 60 to 90 days. Things are going well,” Copas said.

Asked about staffing, Copas said the service now has one open paramedic position that is currently being filled by part-time workers. He said morale is good; the staff appreciates the service as “one of the most stable in the area.”

In other business, Evely said bids on a request for the purchase of two ambulances and a director’s truck will be opened on Thursday. The task force will meet next week to make a recommendation on the bids after which the Unicoi County Commission will meet in a special called meeting to approve the allocation of grant and foundation funding available to make the purchase.

Hensley said the Unicoi County Memorial Hospital Board will award $150,000 to the new EMS service on March 4, with a public check presentation and an announcement of where funds received from the sale of the former hospital are going.

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