At that time, Mayor Greg Lynch described the early bid request as “testing the waters” to determine what contract cost the county would face in the event it did not launch a government-controlled service and also what savings it could earn by providing a station to a contracted provider.
When the bids were opened on Wednesday, the commission’s Ambulance Committee learned its request for proposals had not produced what was hoped for.
The only bid submitted came from MedicOne, which has spent much of the past three years out of compliance with the terms of its $132,000 annual contract with the county. The two price options offered by MedicOne’s came in at an annual cost increases of nearly $100,000 and more than $200,000. And, according to MedicOne Director Jimmy Erwin, neither of the options reflect the county’s provision of an ambulance station.
Erwin said while the request for separate cost estimates with and without a county provided station was specified in the bid request, the specification appeared in small print at the end of request and was apparently overlooked.
As a result, the company’s alternate cost proposals were $250,000 annually for two advanced life support ambulances, 24 hours daily, seven days a week, and one basic life support ambulance 12 hours daily, seven days a week; and $350,000 annually for two advanced life support ambulances, 24 hours daily, seven days a week, and one basic life support ambulance 24 hours daily, seven days a week.
“They could reduce the cost of both those by providing a station,” Erwin said.
If awarded the contract, Erwin said MedicOne would maintain its current location in a rental home just off Exit 36 of Interstate 26, which is a central to all of Unicoi County as requested by the county.
In addition to its move to the Exit 36 location from a rundown storefront on North Main Avenue, Erwin told the committee other significant improvements had been made since he took over as MedicOne’s Unicoi County director last year.
According to Erwin, Medic One now has adequate trucks to meet the terms of its contract and has stabilized its staff by increasing wages to a level that is competitive with ambulance providers in surrounding counties.
County Commissioner Gene Wilson said he was surprised the MedicOne bid did not come in higher but continued to recommend the county partner with the towns of Erwin and Unicoi to launch a locally controlled service.
Commissioner Glenn White said he would rather pay $225,000 for a contract than the $1.4 million estimated start-up cost for a local service calculated by the town of Erwin.
Wilson responded by noting that over the past eight years the county had paid approximately $1.5 million in annual contract costs to MedicOne.
Committee Chairman Jason Harris noted the county still has funds received from the sale of Unicoi County Memorial Hospital, grant funding form the hospital’s foundation, and a separate $440,000 state grant for the purchase of ambulances to work with if it choses to launch a local service.
“If we are ever going to start our own, the time to do it is now,” Harris said. “If we don’t do it now, we will never do it.”
Commission Chairwoman Marie Rice said the county’s next steps will be meet with MedicOne to discuss terms of a contract, to continue to explore the viability of creating a local service and to continue to weigh both options in future committee meetings.
“We still have time. Our contract doesn’t expire until April. And if we want do it, we will need six months get it started. So we will need to decide about six months ahead of that,” she said.
Email Sue Guinn Legg at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @sueleggjcpress. Like her on Facebook at facebook.com/sueleggjcpress.