Hawkins may seek EMS franchise solution from panel of experts

Jeff Bobo • Mar 28, 2019 at 2:00 PM

ROGERSVILLE — Hawkins County leaders hope to rely on the expertise and counsel of highly respected medical professionals in determining if a private ambulance service should receive the next two-year EMS franchise, or if the county should take a different direction.

On Wednesday, the county commission’s Public Safety Committee approved a recommendation to the full commission that it appoint an EMS Exploratory Committee, preferably comprised of the same medical professionals who sat on a similar panel in 2016.

Another big EMS decision

Hawkins County EMS’ exclusive two-year franchise expires June 30.

Lifeguard EMS, which has been attempting to secure a permanent foothold in Hawkins County for several years, has applied for that franchise along with HCEMS.

HCEMS’ rules and regulations currently call for only one EMS franchise to be issued in the county.

The Public Safety Committee met in special session Wednesday to determine the process by which that lone franchise will be awarded.

Issues related to EMS regulations have always been politically charged, especially before Church Hill EMS folded in 2016.

Chairman John Metz is the only current Safety Committee member remaining from the turbulent era surrounding the CHEMS shutdown and attempts by the commission to regulate ambulance services and fairly distribute EMS franchises.

In an attempt to keep politics out of the process this time, Metz proposed Wednesday to take a page from the Safety Committee's 2016 playbook, by seeking the counsel of nonpolitical medical professionals.

The original Exploratory Committee 

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, however, and instead chose to have a franchise application/interview process presided over by the Safety Committee, which resulted in HCEMS being chosen over Lifeguard to receive the county’s two-year EMS franchise in 2017.

Keeping the EMS decision nonpolitical

Metz told his fellow Safety Committee members Wednesday he feels HCEMS has served the county well and still deserves high praise for taking over coverage of the full county on short notice after CHEMS folded.

However, Metz suggested that the county call on the expertise of several highly respected medical professionals in the region, as it did in 2016, before awarding the next EMS franchise.

“There was a couple of physicians, the dean of EMS program at Walters State Community College, and several far more qualified individuals than I could ever be on this topic,” Metz said. “... We had a lot of high-profile individuals with combined, well over 100 years of experience dealing with EMS and medical-related issues.”

The chairman of the previous EMS Exploratory Committee was retired Rogersville physician Dr. Blaine Jones. Other members included:

• Retired surgeon Dr. Richard Mahalik, who helped set up Davidson County’s EMS service.

Tim Strange, who is dean of public safety at Walters State Community College.

Jackie Charles, who is a county school board member and a member of the Rural Health Consortium board of directors.

Edward Alvis, who is a registered nurse and longtime EMT instructor.

Ralph Darnell, who is a retired NASA engineer from Mooresburg.

• Registered nurse Michelle Maddox.

• Retired naval and NASA firefighter Bill Killen.

On Wednesday, the Safety Committee voted 5-0 to recommend to the county commission at its April 22 meeting that it appoint an Exploratory Committee of medical professionals to study both EMS franchise applications.

Ensuring long-term fiscal viability

They will also attempt to recruit a certified public accountant to assist in ensuring the committee’s solution has long-term fiscal viability.

Metz noted that he hadn’t talked about this with any previous Exploratory Committee members prior to Wednesday’s meeting, but he said he hopes to have a list of candidates — hopefully many of the previous members — to present in a resolution to the full commission next month.

In the meantime, the establishment of the new committee likely means it won’t be possible to award the franchise before the HCEMS franchise expires June 30.

Metz told the committee it should be prepared to extend the HCEMS franchise by 90 days if needed to give the Exploratory Committee enough time to complete its study.



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