Multiple ambulance service providers interested in replacing a company with a documented history of compliance issues said Thursday they were left out of Unicoi County’s bidding process.
Now, some Unicoi County residents are demanding that these providers have the opportunity to bid for a contract before the one recently approved by the County Commission’s Ambulance Committee is signed.
Ahead of their recent contract decision, commissioners said MedicOne Medical Response was the only company that submitted a bid.
Unicoi County resident John Day brought to light in a meeting Thursday with the county mayor and other concerned citizens that he had personally been in touch with two interested providers last spring.
That’s when the County Commission voted to advertise for bids to test the waters nearly a year ahead of MedicOne’s contract expiration in April of 2019.
News Channel 11 confirmed Thursday that the two companies Day had reached out to, Lifeguard Ambulance and American Medical Response, were and still are interested in making a deal with Unicoi County.
But when the county sent out requests for proposals in May of 2018, neither of these companies were contacted.
“I just ask, why? Why did you not do your job and send those bids out to the companies that were provided to you?” said Day. “We pay their salaries through our taxes for our commissioners and mayor to do a better job and we demand it.”
Laura Inman, a representative from Lifeguard, said she traveled from Knoxville to attend an Ambulance Committee meeting in April of 2018 and requested an RFP be sent for further action. Inman said she later spoke by phone with Commissioner Loren Thomas and expressed interest once again.
Despite these efforts, Lifeguard was not one of the companies contacted about an RFP in an email sent by Patty Treadway on behalf of then-Mayor Greg Lynch on May 11th, 2018.
Current County Mayor Garland “Bubba” Evely said this email is the only documented record of proposal requests he can find.
The email was sent to three inactive accounts, with the text of the email reading, “If you are no longer with this company, please forward to the proper source.”
The employees these were sent to didn’t work for the corresponding companies at the time the email was sent, according to Day.
That’s why American Medical Response never received an RFP.
Shala Starnes, business development manager for AMR, said her company had expressed interest in receiving an RFP before this email was sent. Starnes said she provided the commission with her contact information but she was not included on the email list.
On Thursday, Commissioner Thomas declined News Channel 11’s request for an interview but defended the bidding process in an email, reading “The RFP was advertised in the Johnson City Press for two weeks, which is all that was required by the county. Mailing the RFP to specific companies, or directly notifying them, is not required by law.”
“We didn’t elect you as our commissioners and mayor to do the basic requirements of the law because we all know that the law doesn’t go the extra mile to do exceptional service,” countered Day.
When News Channel 11 asked Mayor Evely if he felt this was an adequate bidding process, he said he didn’t have an opinion on the matter.
Thomas, who did not participate in the vote to approve MedicOne’s contract because his wife is an employee of the company, has long been opposed to rebidding.
In his email, Thomas went on to defend the new deal. He said the contract includes penalties for noncompliance and other new requirements that will address long-standing service issues.
But Day said new provisions aren’t enough to change his mind about MedicOne. “My business experience is that if a company is not well run and you’re having problems, trying to put a Band-Aid on those problems will not solve anything.”
He suggested Mayor Evely veto the vote of the commission so that the new contract could not be signed before other companies have a chance to bid.
Day threatened to request a temporary injunction to prevent the commission from sealing the deal in the meantime.
The mayor did not commit to a veto but invited Day to raise his concerns at the next Ambulance Committee meeting on January 10th.
News Channel 11 reached out to MedicOne multiple times for comment and no response was provided.