Hawkins approves 3-year EMS franchise, new ambulance funding not likely in 2020-21

Jeff Bobo • Jun 26, 2020 at 9:30 PM

ROGERSVILLE — Although funding to replace a high-mileage ambulance isn’t included in the current Hawkins County 2020-21 budget proposal, on Monday the County Commission unanimously approved a three-year ambulance franchise with Hawkins County EMS.

That franchise approval, which was presented on Monday by Public Safety Committee chairman Dawson Fields, was considered by the commission as an out-of-order resolution because it wasn't submitted in time to be placed on the June agenda.

“The EMS contract was up the last day of this month, June 30, 2020,” Fields told the commission. “It was my understanding that last year in June we had extended until September (of 2020), and I had looked at it wrong. I was thinking it wasn't due until September, but it was due this month.”

HCEMS receives an annual $60,000 contribution from the county to help offset expenses. Last month, the county commission's Budget Committee rejected a $90,000 funding increase request in the 2020-21 county budget for the purpose of replacing a high mileage ambulance.

During a June 17 Public Safety Committee meeting, HCEMS Director Jason Murrell asked the committee to take a closer look at recommendations made by the county commission’s EMS Exploratory Committee in November, including increased county funding.

The Exploratory Committee made its recommendations in November to the full county commission, but Murrell noted that those recommendations have never been discussed by the Public Safety Committee.

“I'd like to see this committee reach out to that Exploratory Committee and see if there is a possibility of some action being taken on their recommendations,” Murrell told the Safety Committee on June 17.

In November, the EMS Exploratory Committee, led by retired Rogersville physician Dr. Blaine Jones, told the full county commission that the future of reliable, long-term ambulance service in Hawkins County boils down to increased county funding.

The three-year franchise extension was recommended by the exploratory committee to give Hawkins County EMS employees some job security in knowing their franchise doesn't face denial on an annual basis.

The EMS Exploratory Committee, which was comprised of health care and public safety experts, also recommended establishing a joint venture between HCEMS and the county commission. Once the joint venture is in place, the franchise renewal would be a moot point.

The county would also add HCEMS employees to the Tennessee Consolidated Retirement System (TCRS) in hopes of helping with employee retention, and the commission would commit to providing more annual funding to HCEMS.

The county would also provide cash-flow support when required, and the commission would be represented on the joint venture board that will be assembled to make those spending recommendations to the county commission.

The Exploratory Committee also said HCEMS needs nine road-ready ambulances, six of which would operate 24/7, and the other three would be “hot spares” in reserve. Another two ambulances are needed for convalescent transport, which is a high revenue generator.

As of the November county commission presentation, HCEMS had 10 ambulances, but four had exceeded 300,000 miles, which is the maximum life expectancy allowed for such vehicles. Four others were over 200,000 miles, and three of those were over 270,000.

The committee recommended the county eventually purchase five new ambulances estimated to cost $260,000 each outfitted and ready to go.

At this time, the three-year franchise is the only Exploratory Committee recommendation that has been enacted by the county commission.

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