County commissioners and Erwin aldermen come to the table on ambulance contract

Sue Guinn Legg • Mar 21, 2019 at 11:31 PM

ERWIN – With the county’s ambulance service contract about to expire and the town considering a drastic shortening of the notice it would give if it wants to exit the agreement, “time” was the focus at a joint workshop Thursday.

Erwin board members and Unicoi County commissioners were gathered for a workshop on the county’s pending contract with MedicOne Medical Response and an interlocal agreement that would allow MedicOne to provide service inside the town of Erwin.

Also up for discussion was a proposed amendment to the interlocal agreement that would allow Erwin to exit the agreement on short notice if the county fails to correct any problems with MedicOne’s service to the town.

Proposed by Erwin Town Attorney Tom Seeley, the amendment would shorten the required term of written notice of the town’s termination the agreement from 90 days to ten days.

The Erwin board tabled its discussion of the proposed agreement and amendment in February to gather more information about the possibility of Washington County providing ambulance service to the town.

Erwin Mayor Doris Hensley, who was unable to attend Thursday workshop, told the board last month that Washington County Mayor Joe Grandy has discussed the option of Washington County providing ambulance service to Erwin and was gathering more information about the cost.

On Thursday, County Attorney Doug Shults told Seeley and the members of the Board of Mayor and Aldermen the proposed 10-day written notice of the town’s intent to terminate the agreement would not provide sufficient time for the county to address the termination.

“I’m not sure how that would work, if we have a contract and you negate in 10 days ... It will be a process to have an ambulance service in place. Ten days wouldn’t leave us time,” he said.

Seeley asked if the interlocal agreement should be contingent on a pending ruling in a lawsuit that asks the court to order the county to redo the bidding process by which MedicOne was awarded the contract.

Shults responded that the ruling is limited to the county’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit, and is expected to be issued by March 29. He said, if the county does not prevail in that motion, it will move forward with both the litigation and the contract.

Seeley told Shults the town is waiting for the outcome of the litigation and said “Our mayor has legitimate concerns about past performance” of MedicOne.

County Commission Chairman Loren Thomas, whose wife is employed as a billing clerk for MedicOne’s multi-state operation, said the commission is trying to provide a process through which its ambulance committee will meet monthly to keep abreast of any problem the town may have with MedicOne “and fix it.”

Alderman Mark Lafever said while the town is exploring options for its ambulance service, it does not have anything written or signed for a “Plan B.” And with the April expiration of the county’s current ambulance contract looming, he said, “We’re out of time.”

“I feel we need to move forward on some verbiage. There needs to a meeting of the mayors and the lawyers to hash this out and present it to us to vote on. As far as the litigation goes, they’re going to provide service one way or the other,” Lafever said.

Alderman Michael Baker agreed, saying the board will move forward on its consideration of the agreement and asked if the county can provide the town with a copy of the contract.

“We need something with teeth. We need a copy of the contract,” Baker said. “The issues have been, is there a contract and is it signed or not.”

Alderwoman Rachelle Shurtz asked the commissioners if the county has a plan B.

Thomas responded the county has a stronger contract than it had in the past and its plan B is for the ambulance committee to meet monthly to address any problems “so we don’t have to go to other options.”

Both the commission and the town board are scheduled to meet on Monday.