Competition among ambulances for emergency calls could happen in Richmond County if a regional emergency services council follows a committee's recommendation to open up the process.
The Facilities and Zoning Committee voted to recommend to the Region VI Emergency Services Council that zoning for all 13 counties in the region be opened. The council designates who is approved to handle 911 calls through the zoning process by designating one ambulance service to handle the calls, generally within a county.
The committee voted to open up the process to settle questions about who is the approved 911 provider in Richmond County and to address a request from Gold Cross Ambulance to have its own mini-zone in south Augusta.
University Hospital Ambulance had the contract from Richmond County to run the ambulance service but it subcontracted with Rural/Metro to be the county's provider. The regional plan, however, still lists University and there is some question about whether the service can legally be contracted out, leaving Richmond County with a quandary about who is technically the legal provider.
Rural/Metro will continue to provide the service, but now others, including Gold Cross, will be allowed to apply to settle the question.
"Once we do that, it will be clean, clear-cut and hopefully very legal," said committee chairman Earl Porterfield. The full EMS council is expected to take up the recommendation Wednesday.
"While I'm not real happy about opening (the process), I'm sure we'll prevail," said Ernie Doss, area general manager for Rural/Metro.
The committee also voted to clarify the council's rule that the closest available ambulance be called to an emergency by saying it is still the zoned provider, in this case Rural/Metro, who should respond. But if a significant delay can be avoided, they should call a closer provider, such as Gold Cross. Mr. Doss said that was already part of his plans.
"My concern is still that the patient get the closest available ambulance in an emergency," said Thomas Schneider, chief executive officer of Gold Cross.