EMS council must revisit November decision to name Augusta 'sole provider' of emergency services

The state has rejected a regional council’s November decision to designate Augusta as “zone provider” of emergency medical services and informed the council it must reconsider the decision, as well as members’ potential conflicts of interest.

Patrick O’Neal, the director of health protection for Georgia Department of Public Health, informed the Region 6 EMS Council it had failed to consider the principles of “economy, efficiency and the benefit to public welfare” when it voted 10-8 on Nov. 14 to award the zone to the city, according to a letter obtained by The Augusta Chronicle.

Instead of following state laws, the council’s decision seemed to be “centered solely on whether a local government entity should be in control of EMS services within its jurisdiction,” O’Neal wrote, citing audio recordings from the meeting.

“This may in fact be an appropriate factor to consider,” he said, but “based on the information provided, I found no discussion or justification as to why it would be economical, efficient or a benefit to the public welfare to do so.”

Since 2006, Augusta and Martinez-based Gold Cross have had a unique arrangement as “co-zone providers” with Gold Cross providing the bulk of emergency medical services under a self-renewing contract with the city.

Around two years ago when Augusta Fire Chief Chris James began pushing to revisit the loosely-written contract, Gold Cross revealed its intent to become sole zone provider, which would allow it to operate without a contract. James said that would give the city too little oversight of the emergency care provided its citizens.

With both parties unable to agree to a distribution plan for EMS calls last year, the Region 6 Council reopened the zone for bids, then voted Nov. 14 to give Augusta the zone. Gold Cross, represented by former governor Roy Barnes, appealed the decision to the state board of health.

In instructing the council to reconsider its decision, O’Neal told members – who include current and former Gold Cross employees, current and former city employees and other emergency and health personnel from around the 13-county region – to acknowledge potential financial or personal conflicts of interest they might have in making the decision and recuse themselves if necessary.

“The department expects members to exercise the highest standards of conduct,” he said.

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