Augusta’s five-year dispute with its current ambulance provider turned another corner Thursday with provider Gold Cross scoring a re-do of a December action by the Region 6 EMS Council.
The result – to refer Augusta’s request to reopen the EMS zone to a council zone subcommittee for consideration – was the same as in December, although no vote was taken Thursday. Council Chairman and Augusta Fire Chief Chris James agreed to recuse himself during the matter, and his only available substitute under council bylaws, Vice Chairwoman Jennifer Weeks, was out due to flu.
Augusta Commissioner Sammie Sias said the city wants to reopen the zone due to concerns about its citizens.
“Let me make one thing very clear. The city of Augusta has a population of about 200,000 people,” he said. “On any given day we may surge up to 350,000, or maybe 400,000, depending on which event is going on in the city of Augusta.”
After Sias’ presentation Augusta 911 Director Daniel Dunlap, one of 23 council members present Thursday, moved to reopen the zone effective April 13 under the council’s criteria of “economy, efficiency and benefit to the public welfare.” James, however, urged that it not be seconded and instead passed the city’s letter on to the chairman of the council’s zone subcommittee because no one was able to preside over the action.
Dunlap said after the meeting he made the motion because the process was going to take months, or years, to complete and Augusta needs the zone opened sooner.
Dunlap said Gold Cross isn’t properly equipped to handle EMS calls because it lacks the 911 equipment that obtains a caller’s location and must rely on city 911 dispatchers to provide it over a basic phone line.
Gold Cross CEO Vince Brogdon defended the service at the meeting, saying it had received no “substantiated material complaints” about the service. He said reopening the zone will hurt its EMT and paramedic workforce.
The council struggled with James’ role both as chairman and head of the entity driving the push to reopen the zone, with former chairman Gary Pinard saying he feared acting on zoning decisions due to the litigation.
The council is the “local coordinating entity” for zone decisions, which require approval by the state department of public health. But, on several occasions the has been denied representation by the Georgia Attorney General’s office because it isn’t considered a state agency, Pinard, James and member Courtney Terwilliger noted.