Originally created 12/03/01

EMS workers aim to save jobs



The future of Augusta's emergency medical service has been hanging in the balance since summer, when commissioners gave themselves until Dec. 31 to decide who will run the city's ambulances.

From drivers to paramedics to billing agents, employees of Rural/Metro Ambulance, the city's current provider, say their jobs are also an uncertainty. Rural/Metro officials confirm that at least a handful, if not more, of the company's 200 employees plan to remind city officials today that their jobs hinge on an ambulance contract.

"There are a number of people working in the field and not in the field that are interested in what's going on with the commission," said Ernie Doss, the general manager for Rural/Metro's South Carolina and east central Georgia territory.

"We support our employees' constitutional right to consult with their political representatives," Mr. Doss said.

The Augusta Commission, for the third time in three weeks, will take up the issue of ambulance service at today's full commission meeting and will consider whether Rural/Metro should have its contract renewed for another year.

But it's unclear what will happen if that contract is not renewed. Although the city has the authority to choose who it pays for ambulance service, a regional EMS council is responsible for designating and approving who is eligible to provide that service. That board has said Rural/Metro is the only licensed, zoned provider eligible for Augusta.

The proposal commissioners are expected to be asked to approve today would extend Rural/Metro's contract for one more year at a cost to the city of $50,000 per month, plus $36,000 monthly for emergency medical dispatch services.

In the meantime, the city would work toward transitioning to a government-run dispatch system that would phase out the $36,000 cost to Rural/Metro by March.

Augusta officials also would use the yearlong extension to develop a request for qualifications that detail specific standards and performance requirements for ambulance service. The city could then ask other companies to submit competitive bids for EMS.

Reach Heidi Coryell Williams at (706) 823-3215.

What's next:

The Augusta Commission is expected today to consider a one-year extension of the contract with Rural/Metro Ambulance.