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Unicoi County approves new MedicOne contract, rejects trail grant

Sue Guinn Legg • Updated Dec 17, 2018 at 10:10 PM

ERWIN — The Unicoi County Commission on Monday voted to approve a new four-year contract with the MedicOne Medical Services.

After more than two years of slow response times and a persistent lack of trucks and staff needed to meet the county’s medical emergency call volume, the commission approved the $225,000 contract by a vote of 6 to 2.

Commissioners Todd Wilcox, Matthew Rice, Jamie Harris, Glenn White, Stephen Hendrix and John Mosley voted in favor of the new contract while commissioners Marie Rice and Jason Harris opposed the deal. Commission Chairman Loren Thomas, whose wife is employed by MedicOne, abstained from the vote.

Mosley, who serves as chairman of the commission’s Ambulance Committee, recommended the contract’s approval, saying MedicOne owner Jim Reeves had agreed to a list of contract stipulations recommended by the committee on Friday in response to Reeve’s last-hour request for revisions of the county’s original contract proposal.

County Mayor Garland “Bubba” Eveley told the committee Friday afternoon that Reeves forwarded requests for changes in the draft contract sent to him on Dec. 5 less than two hours before the committee was scheduled to decide the contract recommendation for the full commission.

His requests included:

• Removal of a $2 million liability insurance umbrella included in MedicOne’s prior contract but not in the county’s request for bids on new contract.

• Revision of the time frame for MedicOne to provide the county with three ambulances less than five years old and with less than 250,000 miles.

• Reduction of hours of service the ambulances must be available.

• A 5 percent allowance on performance penalties for noncompliance with the contract provisions caused by “acts of God” or staff absences.

• A half-mile extension of the minimum distance requirement for an ambulance station’s proximity to Interstate 26.

The committee responded with an agreements to:

• Removal of the $2 million in liability insurance umbrella in lieu of insurance requirements spelled out in its request for proposals.

• Accept Reeves’ offer to add one new ambulance in April and one in April 2020 in order to meet a requirement for three ambulances and to specify a requirement for Type 1 ambulances capable of transporting two patients at the same time.

• Reject any change in the hours the ambulances will be available or the reduce penalties for contract violations.

• Require daily reporting on the number of ambulances available and the type of calls MedicOne responds to.

The commission’s discussion of issues the county has experienced with MedicOne over the past three years included the work of a countywide task force that secured more than $800,000 in grant funding for the purchase of two to three ambulances and start-up cost for a locally controlled ambulance service.

Mosley said creating a local ambulance service is something the commission needs to consider in the future and Jamie Rice said the commission should begin working on it at least two years ahead of the next contract renewal.

But Marie Rice said, “We say that every time the contract comes up.

“We’re in a tough position. It’s a four-year contract and I don’t think we’ve even skimmed the surface of what we need to look at,” she said. “We started two years back. We took a lot of time working with Erwin and that fell through. And that $460,000 (ambulance) grant is still sitting out there and is going to go to some other county.”

Following the vote, Marie Rice told the commissioners who voted in favor of the MedicOne contract, “I will defer those calls to you because they will be coming.”

In other business on Monday, the commission rejected a proposal to commit $2,999 in match funding for a Tennessee Department of Planning Grant for a connector trail between the towns of Unicoi and Erwin.

Troy Ebbert, with the Tennessee Department of Transportation, told the commission the grant was awarded to the county and the two towns with the assumption all three local government entities had committed to the project.

Ebbert said the regional cooperation the project required had generated some excitement within his department and that both the towns had already approved their share of the grant match.

While Ebbert assured the commissioners the route of the trail would be determined by local stakeholders, several commissioners said county residents who had seen an early drawing that placed the trail along the old Johnson City/Erwin highway were opposed.

A motion to approve the grant match eventually failed by a vote of 4 to 5 with Matthew Rice, Jason Harris, Hendrix and Thomas in favor and Marie Rice, Jamie Harris, Wilcox, White and Mosley opposed.

<p><em>Email Sue Guinn Legg at <a href="mailto:[email protected]" target="_blank">[email protected]</a>. Follow her on&nbsp;<a href="http://www.twitter.com/sueleggjcpress" target="_blank">Twitter @sueleggjcpress</a>. Like her on Facebook at <a href="/facebook.com/sueleggjcpress" target="_blank">facebook.com/sueleggjcpress</a>.</em></p>

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