EMS Exploratory Committee may suggest Hawkins take over ambulance service

Jeff Bobo • May 10, 2019 at 9:30 AM

ROGERSVILLE — Hawkins County commissioners will receive two options for the future of ambulance service, and neither includes an outside, for-profit EMS agency.

Instead, the EMS Exploratory Committee will be studying two possible recommendations involving current ambulance service provider Hawkins County EMS (HCEMS). 

Dr. Blaine Jones chairs the non-political group of health care professionals which was formed by the county commission to conduct a study and to make recommendations regarding the future of EMS service. 

HCEMS currently holds the county’s two-year franchise, which expires June 30.

Both HCEMS and Lifeguard EMS have applied for the next two-year franchise, although Jones told committee members Thursday that the franchise system is partly responsible for the problems HCEMS is experiencing.

“Their jobs aren’t stable”

Addressing the commission’s Public Safety Committee (PSC) Thursday, Jones said the Exploratory Committee feels that the two-year franchise system creates instability for HCEMS with regard to job security for staff.

It also causes HCEMS administrators to questions whether they should make capital investments or take on new debt for a company that faces losing its franchise every two years.

“Our Hawkins County EMS guys, every two years, are facing renewal of the franchise,” Jones said. “Their jobs aren’t stable. They wonder, what if we’re not renewed? What if somebody else comes in and gets it? Where will we go? What do we do with our equipment? What do we do with the money that we owe?”

Jones noted that HCEMS provides EMTs experience and training, and then those experienced EMTs go to other, nearby agencies that offer more pay, benefits, and stability.

On May 20, the county commission will consider a resolution that extends HCEMS’ franchise 90 days while the Exploratory Committee completes its study.

Jones said the Exploratory Committee’s goal is to present the full commission with detailed facts and figures regarding two alternatives.

The same recommendation as 2016

The first alternative would be for Hawkins County to take over HCEMS and turn it into a county agency. That’s the same final recommendation the Exploratory Committee made in 2016.

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.

That was rejected by the commission, however, which instead incorporated the two-year franchise system in 2017.

“Make it more stable for Hawkins County citizens”

Alternative two is similar to the first alternative, except with HCEMS maintaining its nonprofit status.

“The county’s involvement wouldn’t be quite as much,” Jones said. “It will still be there. It will still be a Hawkins County entity, so to speak, but they would have a (nonprofit) status which opens them up to a lot more possibilities and benefits.”

The third possibility, Jones, noted, would be to accept HCEMS as the ambulance franchise holder for the next two years and continue with the status quo.

He added, “I’ve charged our committee with trying to find a way to make Hawkins County EMS a more stable organization and make it more stable for Hawkins County citizens so we know we’ve got somebody in the clutch when we need them.”

Lifeguard EMS left out

A representative from Lifeguard EMS asked why that agency wasn’t included in any of the options presented by Jones to the committee.

She didn’t really receive an answer, although Jones may have alluded to the reason when he discussed EMS situations in neighboring counties.

Specifically, Unicoi County awarded its EMS franchise to a private, for-profit agency that subsequently departed, leaving the county without contracted EMS service, Jones noted.