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Erwin leaders seeking Unicoi County and town of Unicoi support for new ambulance service

Sue Guinn Legg • Updated Feb 2, 2018 at 7:01 PM

 ERWIN — The town of Erwin is moving forward with plans to launch a municipal ambulance service and calling on the governments of Unicoi County and the neighboring town of Unicoi for support to take the service countywide.

In a work session of the ambulance service on Thursday, Town Recorder Glenn Rosenoff presented a breakdown of Community Development Block Grant funding and grant match funding for the project totaling $440,000 for the purchase of three ambulances.

Cost projections previously provided by a private consultant put startup and one-year operational expenditures at nearly $1.24 million and projected revenues of $885,120, for a budget gap of $328,682.

Mayor Doris Hensley said the town would like to contract the service to the county and cited the availability almost $450,000 from the sale of the Unicoi Memorial Hospital to Mountain States Health Alliance that could be used for the ambulance service.

The town’s plan, Hensley said, is to ask the Unicoi County Foundation for Healthcare that administers the hospital money for $250,000 and to request the county and the town of Unicoi share the remaining startup and one-year operational costs with Erwin based on a population breakdown provided by the state.

According to the population figures, Hensley said, Erwin would be responsible for 23 percent of the outstanding cost or $22,006, the county would provide 64.7 percent or $63,848, and the town of Unicoi would provide 13 percent or $12,829 of the startup funding.

Hensley the town would provide space for two ambulances at Town Hall and at the town’s fire hall and space for a third ambulance would be provided by the new county hospital.

Paramedics and emergency medical technicians would be employed by the town of Erwin full time with benefits for 12-hour shifts that would eliminate the need to provide them with overnight accommodations. They would be supplemented by part-time staff from other local medical response agencies.

Unicoi County Commissioner Jason Harris, who chais the County Commission’s Ambulance Committee, said they and other commission members support the creation of a local service to alleviate the gaps in service the county has experienced intermittently for many years and in particularly over the past two years.

Alderman Mark Lafever expressed frustration that the county has allowed the MedicOne Medical Response Agency, currently under contract with the county, to fail to meet the terms of its contract and that the town of Erwin, which subcontracts MedicOne’s service through the county, had not done more to force the county to take action against the medical service.

Hensley said she gave the county written notice of contract violations and took part in a series of task force meetings with the county and applied for the grant funding for the ambulances only after learning the the county had no funds to launch a ambulance service at that time.

Hensley said County Mayor Greg Lynch had indicated he would he leave the task of creating an public ambulance service to her and that he feared taking action against MedicOne for contract violations could result in the private service pulling out and leaving the county without any emergency medical response in the interim.

Alderwoman Rachelle Shurtz joined Lafever in expressing frustration with the county and the town of Unicoi for leaving the financial responsibility of establishing a public ambulance service.

“I’m saying the county dropped the ball by not holding MedicOne responsible and putting us in a situation,” Lafever said.

“Everyone I’ve talked to in the past two weeks has said they cannot believe we are doing this. I think this is a slippery slope that is going to end up costing taxpayers more than what we foresee,” he said.

Thursday’s work session ended with the scheduling of a follow-up session with Unicoi and county officials tentatively set for Thursday, Feb. 7.

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