A residents’ group and Augusta Fire Chief Chris James are getting stricter contract language in a new agreement with Gold Cross EMS, the city’s ambulance provider since 2006.
“Emergency services is a watershed issue,” said Sammie Sias of the Richmond County Neighborhood Alliance, which petitioned the Augusta Commission last year to revisit a self-renewing contract James said was too vague to enforce. “If these conditions are strictly adhered to, it will be better for the citizens of Augusta-Richmond County.”
The new terms, negotiated and presented to commissioners Monday by City Administrator Fred Russell, require Gold Cross to maintain 240 ambulance hours a day in Richmond County, with a minimum of 10 ambulances between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. and a minimum of six ambulances in non-peak hours. Sixty percent of the ambulances are required to carry Advanced Life Support equipment and personnel.
The new terms also require Gold Cross to provide real-time data about its ambulances to Augusta 911, to tell 911 when it is down to two ambulances or fewer and to enter agreements with other EMS providers to supplement the service when it has no ambulances available.
Another change, which a commission committee authorized Russell to incorporate into a new EMS contract, is that Russell, not James, will serve as contract administrator and ensure the terms are met.
James did not respond to calls seeking comment about the terms.
Gold Cross CEO Vince Brogdon said the Martinez-based company had a “great working relationship” with Russell, a former deputy police chief.
Gold Cross agreed to reduce the annual subsidy it charges Augusta to cover unreimbursed, uninsured patient fees, now $1.2 million annually, by $400,000 over three years. Brogdon said Gold Cross couldn’t go lower or eliminate the subsidy because as many as 70 percent of Richmond County ambulance calls are “no-pay,” uncollectible calls.
Brogdon said the firm also can’t guarantee placement of 100 percent Advanced Life Support ambulances because of a nationwide shortage of certified paramedics.
“The issue in this area is there is no paramedic school,” he said.
After James and the alliance raised issues about the contract last year, the Augusta Commission voted to notify Gold Cross of its intent to terminate and re-bid the ambulance contract. In June, however, commissioners voted 6-4 to suspend the procurement process and have Russell try to renegotiate a new contract with Gold Cross.
Commissioner Alvin Mason, who opposed the vote to renegotiate with Gold Cross, said in Monday’s public safety committee meeting that the city could have found a better deal if it had allowed the procurement process to continue.
Commissioner Bill Lockett asked Russell why the fire chief, who was critical a year ago of the EMS contract, was no longer contract administrator.
“I’m not sure I have a good why or not,” Russell said.