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Gold Cross wins Augusta EMS zone recommendation

Thursday, May 1, 2014 8:38 PM
Last updated Friday, May 2, 2014 10:45 AM
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By a 14-9 vote of the Region 6 EMS Council, Gold Cross EMS won exclusive access Thursday to Augusta’s emergency medical calls – subject to approval by the state board of health and further appeals.

The decision leaves uncertainty for EMS service in Augusta-Rich­mond County, where Gold Cross is under contract to provide the service for an annual subsidy of $1.08 million, to be reduced each of the contract’s three years.

Council member Richard Schwartz, who opposed awarding the EMS zone to Gold Cross, said he expects the Augusta Commission to consider terminating the contract to save funds, but doesn’t expect Gold Cross to necessarily provide the same level of service without the subsidy.

“If I were a commissioner, I would vote to cancel their contract now, because effectively Gold Cross is legally responsible, if the state accepts this recommendation,” said Schwartz, who is chairman of the Me­dical College of Georgia’s De­partment of Emergency Medicine and Hos­pitalist Services. ”The reality is, I don’t think Gold Cross would continue to provide that and I think we’ll find ourselves back here in the near future.”

The vote was the second taken by the council, after Gold Cross appealed a November recommendation to award Augusta the zone. State director of health protection J. Patrick O’Neal rejected that decision, saying the council didn’t consider “economy, efficiency and the benefit to public welfare,” as well as potential conflicts of interest, as required by law.

On Thursday, the council spent considerable time discussing who should recuse themselves from discussion of the item and voting, with nearly every member having had some connection to Gold Cross, the provider in Columbia and Jefferson counties and in Augusta since 2005.

After debate between former Gov. Roy Barnes, representing Gold Cross, and city attorney Jody Smither­man, five members recused themselves: Augusta Fire Chief Chris James, 911 Director Dominick Nutter, Richmond County sheriff’s Capt. Scott Gay, Gold Cross CEO Vince Brogdon and Carl Wagster.

The conflict criteria was limited to current employees of Gold Cross and Augusta. Coun­cil members not recusing themselves included one who worked for Gold Cross during the Masters Tourna­ment and at least two who acknowledged receiving donated EMS equipment from the company.

Favoring Gold Cross, council Chairman Courtney Ter­williger said Augusta was misrepresenting what it could provide. The city has only two ambulances, but its bid included the services it has Gold Cross under contract to provide.

“They’re using our ambulances in the proposal,” said Brog­don, declining to specify what Gold Cross would do if Augusta terminated the contract.

“That’s a hypothetical question,” he said.

In closing statements, Barnes and Smitherman each tried to address the criteria of economy, efficiency and public welfare.

“If they went into the ambulance service, it would cost taxpayers millions of dollars,” Barnes said. “The county would have to buy and pay
for the same employees.”

In terms of efficiency and public welfare, Barnes said Gold Cross was “the best ambulance service around … Does it have a benefit to the public to interrupt what’s working?”

Smitherman raised the issue of local control, which would be lost if Gold Cross won the zone and the contract was terminated.

“Who’s better to do that than the people who are elected to do that very thing?” she said. “The state’s requirement is one ambulance and you respond to the calls. There’s no time requirement, no number of ambulances – so it’s much more efficient to have enforceable standards.”

After the meeting, Barnes said the public health district and zoning requirements were developed while he served in the Georgia Legislature to “take politics out” of the process.

“When it goes to saving lives, I want the one that’s best qualified, not the one that’s most politically connected,” Barnes said.

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dbruker 05/02/14 - 06:01 am

Barnes says the requirements were developed to "take politics out" of the process? If that's so, why did Gold Cross choose him to be their attorney? Balderdash!

curly123053 05/02/14 - 08:20 am
Don't Understand This

I was in EMS 22 years and worked in 4 different counties during that time. This was in SC, where each county was responsible for their own respective EMS as long as they were adhering to all the proper state and national standards. Just because there are locals running an EMS service does NOT mean the level of service to the community or county will be diminished because the state DHEC will not allow it. There is always going to be some politics involved whether you have a local or private EMS, but there are still standards that need to be met.
I never will understand the counties not having a say-so in their own emergency services as long as the EMS standards are being kept up to specs. They say they are keeping local politics out of it, but outsiders are playing politics with an area they know little about. What is acceptable for one county or region may not be suitable for another. Glad I worked EMS in SC during my time. Each county I worked did their own thing, but they were all very efficient at the care they rendered because they knew DHEC would come in and fix things if they didn't. DHEC has the power to force a county make changes or shut the EMS down. Ga could do the same.

Marinerman1 05/02/14 - 11:44 am
I Don't Have A Dog In This Fight

Since I live in Columbia County, I know that Gold Cross will take care of my family and I. I know where there their station is. I received my First Responder training from Gold Cross. I know the financial commitment that Gold Cross makes every year. I know the commitment that Gold Cross provides to my community. Where's Augusta's "AirMed 1"? Do you really want to trust ARC to get you to the hospital in a timely fashion? REALLY??

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