UNICOI COUNTY, Tenn. (WJHL)- After months of negotiations and a recently dismissed lawsuit, the ambulance company currently serving Unicoi County abruptly backed out of its new contract, shocking local leaders.
Officials are trying to figure out what’s next for EMS in the county, now left with an expired contract and no new deal with MedicOne Medical Response.
MedicOne CEO Jim Reeves sent an email to county commissioners late Tuesday, saying, in part:
“While we have been negotiating in good faith and had hoped that we could reach mutually agreeable terms, unfortunately, due to incessant local media attacks on MedicOne Medical Response as well as recent citizen litigation against the county, we are not only unable to keep existing employees working, we are unable to effectively recruit and hire new employees to back fill those staffing losses, a recurring problem we have been working diligently to solve.”
Town of Erwin Mayor Doris Hensley said she was shocked to learn MedicOne was backing out after the town’s Board of Alderman exhibited what she called broad-based support for the new contract, passing an interlocal agreement March 26th.
Unicoi County Ambulance Committee Chairman John Mosley said he’s disappointed. “It seemed like everything was moving in the right direction,” he said.
Not everyone was disappointed by the development. “It’s a good day for Unicoi County,” said John Day, a resident who attempted to sue the county, arguing the bidding process for ambulance service should’ve been reopened because the initial process was inadequate.
That lawsuit was recently dismissed but Day will get his way after all.
“Now we can put the bid back out and we have three companies who are sitting in the wings waiting to bid. They’re all national companies with a lot more resources and who will provide a better service at a better cost to our county,” said Day.
Day said those providers are American Medical Response, First Call Ambulance and Priority Ambulance.
“It could be a better deal or it could be a worse deal,” said Mosley, whose concerned the county will have to raise taxes to pay for another service.
Mosley said commissioners are working to get the contract back out for bid as soon as possible.
The Ambulance Committee will hold a meeting on Tuesday, April 9th at 11 AM to begin the process.
Mosley said he expects new requests for proposals will be sent out as early as April 16th, following a special called meeting with the full commission, preliminarily set for the 15th.
In the meantime, Mosley said MedicOne has agreed to provide service on a temporary basis while the county finds another provider.
Mosley said because MedicOne missed their bond renewal payment Sunday, they’re under no obligation to do so.
MedicOne’s previous contract expired March 30th, according to Hensley.
Hensley said she has also reached out to neighboring counties, asking them to assist in EMS coverage if necessary. “They have graciously given their support,” she said.
Mosely said all options are on the table going forward, including the Town of Erwin and Unicoi County starting their own ambulance service.
“I would like for it to be a possibility but I don’t know that we would get the support we need or not,” said Hensley. “That would be something we’ll talk about in a joint committee.”
Both Mosley and Hensley emphasized the importance of interlocal collaboration going forward, something Hensley said was lacking during the initial bidding process.
“We were not included in the bidding process. We were not informed on when the committee was going to meet, didn’t even know the bids went out,” she said.
She said she’s since appointed a town representative to the County Ambulance Committee to better communication.
Mosley also said legal action against MedicOne is not off the table after they broke what some considered to be a legally binding contract.
Mosley said the final contract was never signed but Unicoi County Attorney Doug Shults had previously advised commissioners not to put the contract back out for bid on the grounds that it would put them at risk of being sued by MedicOne.