MedicOne adds 2 ambulances and 2 paramedics; Commission tables action on contract violations

Sue Guinn Legg • Updated Feb 28, 2017 at 5:10 PM

ERWIN — The Unicoi County Commission Monday tabled pending action on a long-running series of violations of its ambulance service contract with MedicOne Medical Response Services in light of a series of actions taken over the past two weeks to meet the contract’s terms.

MedicOne's new Operations Manager Jimmy Erwin, a former captain and 17-year veteran of the Unicoi County Sheriff's Department, updated the County Commission’s Ambulance Committee on recent improvements to the service in an committee meeting held immediately prior to the commission meeting.

Erwin, who finished his tenure with the sheriff’s department on Friday, said the improvements include the addition of two mechanically sound ambulances, a new station location and the hiring of two new paramedics

“There were violations of the contract,” Erwin said. “The two deficiencies that were most talked about were a lack of ambulances and a lack of staff.”

Since his Feb. 10 hire date with MedicOne, Erwin said the motor has been replaced on one of three ambulances that were already in the county and a fourth ambulance has been brought here from a MedicOne location in Nashville.

A brand new ambulance has been ordered and is expected to arrive in mid-March, at which time the oldest ambulance in the fleet will be replaced, Erwin said.

Two paramedics have been hired and applications have been received from six additional paramedics. And MedicOne has signed a lease and began moving equipment to a house on North Main Avenue at Harris Hollow Road that will serve as its new station.

The house is located at 1501 N. Main Ave., just off Exit 36 of Interstate 26 and well within the contract’s stipulation for MedicOne provide a central station within one mile of the Exit 36.

Erwin said the station will help with the recruitment of additional staff who will be more apt to come to work when they see where the service is located and what it has to offer in overnight accommodations.

Erwin also noted that since Feb. 10, MedicOne has covered all shifts with two ambulances available to answer transport and emergency calls and a third ambulance and staff on standby during times when those two units are simultaneously called out.

“It is my belief we have answered the request to have MedicOne back to compliance with (the) Unicoi County contract,” Erwin said in a outline of actions taken since he came to work for MedicOne.

Speaking directly to the Ambulance Committee Monday afternoon he said, “MedicOne will continue to meet the contract.”

“MedicOne is a large corporation and it has the ability to provide everything required. As operations manager I will do all I can to see that they do,” Erwin said.

“We still have a paramedic shortage. We have one coming here from Memphis in two weeks. We have one who moved here from Morristown. And we have six more coming in for interviews.

“With the living and office conditions we have, it really hard to bring anyone in. When we move and and show them what we have, they will be more apt to come to work.”

The Ambulance Committee and a task force made up of the committee members and other elected officials and emergency response professionals that service the county and the towns of Erwin and Unicoi have been meeting since August in attempt to remedy the contract violations and explore the creation of a county operated ambulance service.

MedicOne Medical Response owner Jim Reeves responded to a letter from the county outlining apparent violations of the contract and renewing his pledge to remedy shortages of ambulances and staff that have resulted in long and recurring medical response delays since last summer.

County Mayor Greg Lynch said Thursday he will attempt to steer commissioners away from ending the contract, expressing confidence MedicOne’s recent hiring of a new operations manager, efforts to increase staffing and promise to make more ambulances available will meet the terms of its contract.

The task force was organized to explore the possibility of creating a publicly run ambulance service on Aug. 31.

Creation of the task force was spurred by a letter to the county form Erwin Mayor Doris Hensley that cited violations of the town’s contract with the county to provide emergency medical response to Erwin residents through MedicOne.

Hensley told the Ambulance Committee members at that time wait times of up two hours had left Erwin residents in need of medical attention with no assistance other than police officers who could only “sit and hold their hands.”

Reeves met with  the task force in November and promised to have a three ambulances staffed and available to the county within 60 to 90 days.

At the task force’s last meeting on Feb. 6, MedicOne had two ambulance out of operation due to mechanical issues and only one operational ambulance available to answer calls, leading Committee Chairman Jason Harris to note the contract violations were getting worse from one task force meeting to the next.

On the committee’s request, the county sent Reeves a letter dated Feb 8 outlining the contract violations. Reeves responded with a letter date Feb. 14 in which he renewed his promise to correct the violations and noted that Erwin had been hired as MedicOne’s operations manger.

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