A two-year conflict over who runs Augusta emergency medical services calls enters a new phase Thursday.
At a called meeting, the zoning committee of the East Central Georgia EMS Council is expected to reconsider the council’s Nov. 15 recommendation by a 10-8 vote to designate the Augusta government as “zone provider” in the EMS zone that spans Augusta-Richmond County.
The council was ordered by J. Patrick O’Neal, director of health protection for the Georgia Department of Public Health, to revisit the decision after Gold Cross EMS, the city’s primary ambulance provider since 2006, filed an appeal.
In a letter to council, chairman Gary Pinard, O’Neal said the council’s Nov. 15 vote hadn’t showed members considered “economy, efficiency and the benefit to public welfare,” required by Georgia law, in rendering a decision.
The council decision also showed members weren’t taking seriously conflicts of interest, both in deliberations and voting, O’Neal said.
Comprised of approximately 30 members from the 13-county Region 6 health district, the council includes mostly EMS directors and other health and emergency services professionals – several of whom do work for, or have worked for Gold Cross – as well as Augusta Fire Chief Chris James.
Nearly two years ago, the newly promoted Augusta fire chief drew the city commission’s attention to the vagueness of the city’s self-renewing agreement with Gold Cross, gaining the attention of south Augusta activists and now commission candidates Sammie Sias and Melvin Ivey, who circulated petitions in support of ending a “monopoly” by the Martinez ambulance service.
Around the same time, Gold Cross began a push to win the zone designation, which would include an opportunity to run EMS calls without a contract.
The effort prompted Augusta commissioners to give Gold Cross notice and put the service out for bids, but commissioners changed their minds a few months later, citing a general lack of complaints about the ambulance service.
It did get the city’s contract with Gold Cross rewritten, however, to include a local review committee, quarterly performance reporting and other heavily negotiated details.
Gold Cross CEO Vince Brogdon said O’Neal’s letter indicates the council should have considered factors other than Augusta’s push to retain a contract over the service, which he said may not contribute to “economy, efficiency and the benefit to public welfare.”
The city operates, at most, only a couple of its own ambulances, one of the administrative requirements to hold a zone designation.
“How do you run all of Richmond County with one ambulance,” Brogdon said.
The firm, represented by former governor Roy Barnes at the appeal in Atlanta, is currently under a three-year contract with Augusta that requires quarterly reporting to the review committee, which has yet to meet, and allows either party to terminate with 90 days’ notice.
Brogdon said if Gold Cross wins the zone the firm won’t cancel the contract, but regardless, he hopes to end what he sees is a two-year turf battle over the service.
James and Jody Smitherman, the city attorneys assigned to fire and EMS, did not return calls seeking comment.
Neither the zone committee decision nor the council decision are binding. The comm ittee meetsat 10 a.m. today at the East Central Public Health District Building D, 1916 North Leg Road in Augusta.