Ambulance Bids Received

Weakley County officials received four bids for providing county ambulance service, but postponed a decision until Thursday.

Scott Fortner, chair of the public safety committee of the county commission, said at a called meeting Monday morning that four companies had responded to the request for proposals. Representatives of three of the four companies were present to explain the details.

Joyce Noles of West Tennessee Healthcare, which last week purchased Volunteer Hospital in Martin from Tennova Healthcare, said WTH would provide three ambulances, along with a supervisor truck staffed with a paramedic, on a round-the-clock basis, but said they would also be flexible if another ambulance was needed. She also noted sister ambulances from Jackson and Dyersburg would be available for mutual aid. WTH offered to provide this service on a three-year contract with no subsidy from the county.

Priority Ambulance, which partners with Baptist Healthcare out of Memphis, offered a 3- to 5-year contract with no county subsidy. Its representative, Eric Messer, said the company would provide four new ambulances, at a cost of $750,000, with the fourth serving as a supervisor truck. He said Carroll and Obion County would provide mutual aid. Messer said his company preferred a longer-term contract in order to capitalize the purchase of the ambulances.

Jeff Washburn of Weakley County Ambulance Service, the current provider, said he would provide four ambulances (two in Martin) on a 24-hour basis every day, and a fifth ambulance Monday-Friday for 10 to 12 hours. Citing the “tremendous growth in transfers” in recent years, Washburn said he didn’t believe three ambulances were sufficient to cover the county’s needs.

The many transfers of Volunteer Hospital patients to Jackson, Memphis, Nashville and Paducah mean fewer ambulances on-site in the county.

“The question is, can you operate Weakley County with only three ambulances? Absolutely not,” Washburn said.

Although staffing has been a problem for WCAS, Washburn said he had the personnel for four ambulances and three employees ready to be hired if a fifth ambulance was needed.

Washburn asked for a $300,000 subsidy from the county to operate WCAS. His service has operated with help from the county with an annual subsidy of $235,000 which hasn’t increased since 1998. With his competitors offering a service with no subsidy required, he asked what would happen at the end of the contract, noting Benton County paid a $640,000 subsidy to WTH for just two ambulances.

“Weakley County Commissioners and citizens don’t need to be confused by zero-subsidy dollar proposals by two of the ambulance companies,” Washburn said in a later statement to the Press.  “This is a common ploy to offer two to three years no subsidy and when the contract comes up for renewal at the end of the initial term, the zero subsidy becomes a horrific subsidy.”

By then, Washburn said, the company which originally provided the service, such as WCAS, is out of business and unlikely to be able to restart its operations.

Messer said Priority currently requires no subsidy from any county in which it operates, and when its Weakley County contract is renegotiated in three years, officials could reject it if it didn’t meet the county’s needs. Noles said Benton County is the only customer whom WTH charges for service.

County Mayor Jake Bynum asked if Priority or WTH would transport jail inmates at no charge, as WCAS does. Messer said never transports anyone for free, because Medicare requires that patients be billed.

Medic One also returned a bid for providing four ambulances at a subsidy of $650,000 a year, but no representative was present at the meeting.

After some further discussion, the committee decided to postpone its decision until Thursday, when it is scheduled to meet again at 9 a.m.

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