With three ambulance providers making strong bids to handle the county’s emergency medical needs, the public safety committee made a difficult decision on Thursday.
The committee, made up of county commissioners, will forward its recommendation for further review.
Weakley County Ambulance Service, which has served the county for 30 years, was chosen by the committee over proposals from two other healthcare organizations.
At an earlier meeting a representative from West Tennessee Healthcare proposed to provide three ambulances and an extra truck staffed with a paramedic and said if needed, more ambulances could be pulled from Jackson and Dyersburg. WTH asked for no subsidy from the county.
Priority Ambulance, which partners with Baptist Healthcare, also proposed to provide three ambulances and a supervisor truck, with mutual aid available from Carroll and Obion counties. No county subsidy was requested.
Weakley County Ambulance Service’s bid included the four ambulances it now provides, plus a fifth ambulance running during heavy traffic hours Monday through Friday. Jeff Washburn, CEO, requested a $300,000 subsidy to provide the service.
Committee member David Hawks expressed concern that the two organizations requesting no subsidy would simply make up their expenses by charging more per call. When he asked representatives of the two companies how much they charged a patient, though, it turned out there was no easy answer.
Eric Messer of Priority said the bid was based not on fees charged but on fees collected, because that was the realistic figure. He said that figure was $443.
Joyce Noles of West Tennessee said her company charges an average of $709 per transport.
Both representatives said charges vary widely depending on the patient’s insurance. If patients are on Medicare or Medicaid, for example, the services must accept what the government pays for the call.
Washburn said his service charges from $300 to $500 a call.
(None of the services charges if the patient doesn’t need transport.)
Commissioner Earl Wright reminded the committee that WCAS had just gotten four ambulances fully staffed, which had improved service throughout the area.
“I personally think it’s worth the subsidy to keep the service we’ve got,” Wright said.
Hawks said his preference was WTH.
James Bynum, Scott Fortner, Larry Hudson and Wright voted to retain WCAS, while Hawks voted for WTH.
Their recommendation will go to the finance, ways & means committee, whose decision will be referred to the full county commission at its meeting on June 28.
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