Non-political committee will study Hawkins EMS franchise options

Jeff Bobo • Apr 18, 2019 at 12:25 PM

ROGERSVILLE — The Hawkins County Commission’s Public Safety Committee wants to make sure politics doesn’t play a role in awarding the county’s lone ambulance franchise.

That’s why on Monday the County Commission will be asked to approve an out of order resolution appointing an exploratory committee of medical and public safety professionals to study both franchise applications, and make a recommendation to the full commission.

Current franchise holder Hawkins County EMS's two year ambulance franchise expires on June 30.

The non-profit HCEMS is seeking renewal of that franchise, and the for-profit Lifeguard EMS has applied for the franchise as well.

Lifeguard operated in Hawkins County briefly until 2015 when the County Commission, in a politically charged atmosphere, voted to exclude Lifeguard from receiving an ambulance franchise.

A year later Church Hill EMS folded, leaving HCEMS as the county’s only ambulance service provider.

On the heels of CHEMS folding in August 2016, the county commission appointed an EMS Exploratory Committee to review the existing EMS situation and to make a recommendation to the full commission.

That recommendation was presented on Nov. 30, 2016 and called for the county to absorb HCEMS into a county-owned ambulance service at an overall cost of between $1.5 million and $2.5 million over the following five years.

Ultimately the commission rejected that recommendation, and instead chose to have a franchise application/interview process presided over by the Public Safety Committee (PCS), which resulted in HCEMS being chosen over Lifeguard to receive the county’s two-year EMS franchise in 2017.

Last month Public Safety Committee chairman John Metz proposed appointing that same exploratory committee to make a recommendation regarding the county's ambulance franchise applicants.

But, as of last month's meeting Metz hadn't spoken with previous exploratory committee chairman, retired Rogersville physician Dr. Blaine Jones or any of the other previous members.

On Wednesday the PSC reconvened with Jones in attendance carrying a list of people who have agreed to participate in the exploratory committee.

Aside from Jones, the names presented to the PSC Wednesday included: retired surgeon Dr. Richard Michalik; Wings Air Rescue paramedic Stacy Mahan; retired NASA engineer Ralph Darnell; school board member and Rural Health Consortium board of directors member Jackie Charles; Dean of public safety at WSCC Tim Strange; retired NASA fire chief Bill Killen; former TVA EMT and EMS assistant instructor Patrick Shipwash; and retired registered nurse and longtime EMT instructor Ed Alvis.

"Those members comprise probably 160 or more years of medical and emergency medicine," Jones told the PSC. "A quite experienced, quite detailed bunch of people with a lot of input, that have agreed to serve. We have all agreed to come together and prepare whatever this committee charges us with, and get back to you on a regular basis."

Jones added, "As a matter of fact I have our first meeting set for April 23 if you approve us as a full commission on Monday, April 22. We're wanting to go ahead and get started in on this, start gathering information, and put together a plan to serve the citizens of Hawkins County the best way possible for EMS services."

It's unlikely that the County Commission will be in a position to make an EMS franchise decision before the HCEMS franchise expires June 30.

The also PSC agreed Wednesday to recommend a resolution to the full commission at its May meeting extending the HCEMS franchise for 90 days, which should give the exploratory committee time to complete its study, and the county commission time to act on that recommendation.