Hawkins Co. EMS spread thin, committee to propose solutions

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HAWKINS COUNTY, Tenn. (WJHL)- Dr. Blaine Jones survived a major car accident and a heart attack but he says he wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for Hawkins County EMS.

“I think the citizens of Hawkins County need that. They need to know they have EMS services available to them,” said Jones.

Currently, he says that’s not always the case.

Jones is the chairman of the EMS Exploratory Committee, appointed by the Hawkins County Commission earlier this year to help make coverage in the county more consistent.

About six years ago, Jones said the commission began requiring Hawkins County EMS, a non-profit, to be granted a franchise before continuing operations.

That means every three years, private providers have the chance to take over.

“It caused instability because the guys didn’t know if they were going to have their jobs,” Jones said. “You can have all the ambulances in the world but if you don’t have staff to put in those ambulances they just sit idol.”

Jones said the commission originally came up with the franchise format after a private provider moved into the area. He said the competition oversaturated the market and financially strained Hawkins County EMS and Church Hill EMS, the other two services at the time.

“The private service had to leave because they didn’t get the franchise and things were ok. Then, in the middle of all this, Church Hill EMS goes under, leaving Hawkins County EMS to cover the whole area that’s 500 square miles,” Jones said.

He said the committee is recommending the county end the franchise requirement and enter into a joint venture with Hawkins County EMS.

He said, this way, the commission could underwrite the costs of more staff and ambulances.

“Probably to get a better response time, we need about nine ambulances available 24 hours a day. Obviously, Hawkins County can’t afford that,” Jones said. “So we settled on six and we’re still stressed at six because we don’t have the funds to keep the one open at Surgoinsville right now.”

Jones said a Life Safety Committee is also trying to find funding from local churches and businesses to put AED’s in every police cruiser and volunteer fire vehicle.

He said the equipment could save a person having a heart attack if an ambulance isn’t immediately available.

“Anytime that you have the chance to obviously just save one life, that could make a difference,” said Rogersville Police Department Assistant Chief Travis Fields. “So if it’s something that would help with that then, yes, we would definitely be on board for that.”

Another recommendation of the EMS Exploratory Committee is to begin offering EMT courses at area high schools.

Jones said this could help address staff shortages by getting students certified before graduation.

Hawkins County Director of Schools Matt Hixon said the district plans to launch the course next semester.

Jones will formally present the committee’s recommendations to the commission on Monday, October 28th.

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