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Unicoi County leaders to meet on ambulance service agreement with Washington County

Sue Guinn Legg • May 12, 2019 at 4:52 PM

ERWIN — Unicoi County commissioners and representatives of the towns of Erwin and Unicoi will meet with Johnson City/Washington County Emergency Medical Services Executive Director Dan Wheeley Monday to flesh out details of a proposed agreement that could put Washington County ambulances on the road in Unicoi County for the next year.

The informational meeting will be at 11 a.m. in the Unicoi County Sessions Courtroom and will be open to the public.

Unicoi County Mayor Garland Evely said the proposal includes Unicoi County’s payment of a $218,000 subsidy for one year, or slightly less than the annual subsidy approved in the county’s recent contract negotiations with MedicOne Medical Services.

Several staffing options included in the agreement all call for keeping the current MedicOne staff in place, either as temporary employees of Johnson City/Washington County EMS or, for a lesser subsidy, as temporary employees of Unicoi County.

Evely said the staffing options and other details of the agreement still on the table will be discussed at Monday’s meeting. “We invited all the commissioners for informational purposes really. The main thing we hope to accomplish is to get everyone informed,” he said.

Meanwhile, the county’s advertisement of a “request for information” to gauge commercial providers’ interests in an ambulance contract with the county is scheduled for publication in several newspapers and online platforms on Monday.

Evely said the commission’s last recommendation was to wait for the completion of the pending interlocal agreement with Washington County before moving forward with a request for new contract bids.

Washington County’s offer to assist Unicoi County has eased some of the urgency to contract a new provider created by MedicOne’s April 2 notice that it will not enter a new contract with the county and will leave the community as soon as a new provider is in place.

The notice, which came one day after MedicOne’s previous contract with the county expired, cited the company’s inability to hire adequate staff to meet the terms of new contract due to a statewide shortage of EMTs and paramedics and “incessant attacks” by local media.

The failed contract proposal was negotiated in fits and starts over a several-month period during which county residents and several members of the commission contended the bidding process had been flawed.

Complaints that MedicOne failed to meet the terms of its prior contract with the county were prevalent through much of that contract period and resulted in the creation of a community task force that spent nearly two years exploring the feasibility of creating a locally controlled ambulance service for Unicoi County.

With the notice of its withdrawal from further contract negotiations, MedicOne told the county it will remain in service here until a new provider is in place. Since then, the company has ceased hiring or bringing in supplemental staff from outside of Erwin, resulting in the remaining MedicOne staff working an inordinate amount of overtime.

Washington County’s offer to assist came soon after MedicOne’s notice of withdrawal.

Email Sue Guinn Legg at slegg@johnsoncitypress.com. Follow her on Twitter @sueleggjcpress. Like her on Facebook at facebook.com/sueleggjcpress.

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