Unicoi County commissioners, pictured from left, Marie Rice, Glenn White and John Mosley review the interlocal agreement with Washington County/Johnson City EMS for ambulance service in the county during the June 14 Unicoi County Ambulance Committee meeting. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Richard Rourk)

By Richard Rourk

A new ambulance service provider will begin serving Unicoi County on July 1.

On Friday, June 14, the Unicoi County Ambulance Committee voted unanimously to recommend to the full Unicoi County Commission to enter into an interlocal agreement with Washington County/Johnson City EMS.

During the committee meeting, Commissioner Glenn White made a motion to accept the interlocal agreement and to present the agreement to the full county commission. Commissioner John Mosley, who chairs the committee, seconded the motion and the committee voted unanimously to send the interlocal agreement to the full commission.

Unicoi County Mayor Garland “Bubba” Evely provided everyone in attendance with a copy of both the working interlocal agreement and the final interlocal agreement to review prior to the final vote later in the evening.

The Unicoi County Commission made it official and agreed to sign an interlocal agreement that would allow Washington County/Johnson City EMS the opportunity to serve as the ambulance provider for Unicoi County. The motion to approve the offer from Washington County/Johnson City EMS was made by Mosley and seconded by Unicoi County Commissioner Stephen Hendrix. The commission voted 9-0 to approve the interlocal agreement.

Evely said Washington County/Johnson City EMS is scheduled to take over the ambulance service beginning July 1.

According to the interlocal agreement, Washington County/Johnson City EMS will provide and maintain adequate and sufficiently trained staff that possess all required licenses and certifications. Washington County/Johnson City EMS will provide two advanced life-support paramedic ambulance units 24 hours a day, 365 days per year. In addition, Washington County/Johnson City EMS will provide one staffed basic life support ambulance for 10 hours a day, five days a week. This basic life support ambulance will run Monday through Friday.

Unicoi County will pay a subsidy of $218,677, of which $100,000 would need to be paid upfront to get services started on time.

The subsidy of $218,677 is the cost that Washington County/Johnson City EMS Executive Director Dan Wheeley has projected the county would spend annually if Unicoi County were to start its own service following the expiration of the interlocal agreement. During the May 13, Unicoi County Ambulance Committee meeting, Wheeley acknowledged that once the county starts the service up, if they decide to, the county could run the service annually to the cost of roughly $218,000.

According to Evely, the subsidy does not include a monthly payment of $1,500 for the lease of three Washington County ambulances and equipment associated with the vehicles.

“We are still exploring the possibility of purchasing the needed ambulances using grant funds,” Evely said.

It was reported during the April 9 Unicoi County Ambulance Committee meeting that there could be funding to purchase the necessary vehicles. During that meeting, Town of Erwin Mayor Doris Hensley addressed the committee to discuss the Town of Erwin purchasing ambulances with $500,000 state grant funds.

“The grant could purchase two new ambulances and a possible third ambulance for transport,” Hensley said during the April 9 meeting.

Unicoi County Commissioner Marie Rice, at the April 9 meeting, acknowledged that Unicoi County still has $440,000 left over from the payment that Unicoi County received when Unicoi County Hospital was sold to Mountain States Health Alliance, which is now Ballad Health.

According to Hensley during the April 9 meeting, there could also be up to $150,000 that can be used from the Hospital Foundation Funds to start an ambulance service. According to Evely, the county is currently looking over all options.

There were a few items that were changed from the working interlocal agreement to the final signed copy. One request Unicoi County had that was removed by Washington County/Johnson City EMS was for Washington County/Johnson City EMS to provide the staff with HazMat Awareness.

Another item that was removed from the marked-up agreement was the request by Unicoi County for the ambulance service to provide ambulance transport service from Unicoi County jail inmates without charge or to charge the inmates personal health care provider. The removed request also called for Unicoi County Coroner transports to occur without billing Unicoi County. According to Evely, Washington County/Johnson City EMS removed the items because they would have been a cost to Washington County and a benefit to Unicoi County. Evely acknowledged that the removal of the requested items was fair.

“It’s would be a wash,” Evely said.

Following the meeting, Mosley expressed excitement about the agreement with Washington County/Johnson City EMS.

“I’m just happy that we have a little stability with Washington County,” Mosley said. “They are going to be a great partner and hopefully this will lead us one step closer to being able to start our own service.”

Before the commission adjourned on Friday, Unicoi County Commission Vice Chair Jamie Harris acknowledged that he would like to see a meeting take place between the staff of MedicOne, the county’s previous service provider, and Wheeley.

“These employees need to know what their future is going to look like,” Jamie Harris said.

According to Mosley, there is a closed meeting that will take place Friday, June 21, between Medic One employees and Washington County/Johnson City EMS. It had been previously discussed that Washington County/Johnson City EMS would be interested in discussing open positions with the current MedicOne employees.

“I would like to have a meeting with the MedicOne employees, if you decide to go this route,” Wheeley said during a May 13 Unicoi County Ambulance Committee meeting. “Having a meeting with the staff (MedicOne) is very important.”

While Washington County/Johnson City EMS works on staffing, the Unicoi County Commission will continue to work on a more permanent home for the ambulance service.

“Right now we are staying where we are at on a month-to-month basis, but eventually we hope to work something out to utilize the property on the back side of the old Unicoi County Memorial Hospital,” Mosley said.

Starting July 1, Washington County/Johnson City EMS will be temporarily housed at the old MedicOne location at the corner of Harris Hollow Road and North Main Avenue.

The contract will run from July 1, 2019, until July 1, 2020. According to the document, either party could terminate the contract with a 60-day written notice with or without cause.