Gold Cross ambulance service is trying to position itself to run 911 calls in Augusta without a contract with the city, according to Richmond County Fire Chief Chris James.
On Thursday, the East Central Georgia EMS Council will discuss a letter from Gold Cross requesting that it become the primary zone provider in the area, a standing the company currently shares with the Augusta-Richmond County Fire Department.
If Gold Cross were the primary provider, Augusta’s 911 center would have to send emergency calls to it whether or not it has a contract with the city, James said.
“Gold Cross would have no reason to have a contract with us if this goes through,” said Jody Smitherman, of the city’s law department. “It will eliminate Augusta, Ga.’s ability to make any decisions in regard to its EMS service.”
James has requested the council put off a decision until a February meeting to give the department adequate time to respond. A zoning subcommittee will meet Thursday and make a recommendation to the full council. A decision will be shared with the Georgia Department of Public Health, said Gary Pinard, the zoning chairman and Screven County’s EMS coordinator.
“The situation in Augusta-Richmond County is unique,” said Nancy Nydam, of the public health department, in an e-mail. “They are the only county with zone co-providers. This means that Gold Cross and Augusta Fire currently cover all of Richmond County. If Gold Cross were to become the sole zone provider, they would not need a contract to answer 911 calls. Whether Gold Cross has a contract with the city, or it doesn’t, the 911 calls go to the zone provider.”
In August, Gold Cross owner Bo Pounds said he was pursuing ideas on how to run his business in Richmond County without a contract with the city.
“We don’t need it,” he said.
Gold Cross’ letter, dated July 25, was stamped as delivered to Lawanna Mercer-Cobb, the program director of the Georgia Office of EMS for Augusta’s region, on Aug. 6. James learned of the letter’s existence Oct. 19, he said.
In the letter, Gold Cross CEO Vince Brogdon said, “Augusta Fire has repeatedly failed to staff at least one of its two licensed ambulances,” which is the minimum allowed to keep the ambulance license.
James said he was not aware of the rule until a month after he became chief and Mercer-Cobb told him of it. That day, March 1, he began staffing its Rescue 1 ambulance full time.
During the seven years Gold Cross and the city have shared the ambulance license, the Georgia Department of Public Health has never received a complaint about the fire department’s ambulances being out of service, Nydam said.
Brogdon says in the letter that “Gold Cross does not believe that a zone provider who staffs just one ambulance in a county with a population and call volume found in Richmond County should be considered a co-zone provider.”
Richmond County has always held the license and subcontracted the calls, Smitherman said. She said other area counties work the same way.
“If they were concerned, they should have brought this up seven years ago,” she said.
In fact, she argued, having the dual zones means Augusta has access to two extra ambulances, the fire department’s Rescue 1 and 2.
Columbia County lost its primary zone provider status and has not been able to get it back, James said.
Smitherman said she and James will argue that the committee is not allowed to change zoning until certain steps are taken, including having a local member on the zoning committee.
The situation is scary, James said.
“They are taking the citizen’s voice out of the equation,” he said.