Unicoi County leaders plan to establish county ambulance service

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UNICOI COUNTY (WJHL) – Leaders in Unicoi County hope to establish their own ambulance service in the new year.

For more than six months, emergency medical services have been provided by the Washington County/Johnson City 911.

County leaders and members of the Towns of Unicoi and Erwin discussed the next steps in the crucial process. A conversation that’s been in the works for months, determined the next step for an ambulance service in Unicoi County.

“If we improve our service, that’s something that is beneficial for everybody,” said County Commissioner Marie Rice.

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Towns of Unicoi, Erwin, and County leaders were able to hear advice and get answers on what is needed to sufficiently run the services.

“It will be a public corporation to start, then we’ll apply for a 501c3 status which would make it tax-exempt so the service would be able to accept donations,” said Unicoi County Mayor Garland “Bubba” Evely.

As it stands, grant funding will be used to get them up and running until the service becomes self-sufficient.

“The funding is going to come mainly from a grant that the Town of Erwin got – half a million dollars,” said Erwin Mayor Doris Hensley. “We have some other grant funds coming in from the hospital foundation and the county is going to put in the other remaining money that’s needed.”

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The county and towns only have six months to determine its next steps as its interlocal agreement with Washington County/ Johnson City EMS end on June 30 of 2020.

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Now, the towns and county have to create their own interlocal agreement and appoint a board to start ambulance services.

“Once that interlocal agreement is signed, then that defines the board of directors then we can start working on business licenses, charters with the state, the structure of the organization working with the state of Tennessee for the ambulance permit,” said Washington County EMS Chief Dan Wheeley.

But questions remain about the logistics of the agreement and the costs.

“We want to know what it’s going to cost also we’re concerned about the response time being as we are in the very north end of the county,” said Town of Unicoi Mayor Johnny Lynch. “Just basic things like that.”

The Town of Erwin, Town of Unicoi and Unicoi County leaders are planning to have a called meeting Thursday, January 9, to discuss an interlocal agreement.

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