Upson County may soon have a different ambulance service if the Board of Commissioners decides to pursue other options than Mid Georgia Ambulance Service, which took over EMS operations in January 2014. At a work session meeting held on June 29, Commission Chairman Rusty Blackston told the board they had received a letter from Grady EMS, which is interested in providing their services in Upson County. Grady EMS is a branch of Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta. Grady EMS was recently awarded a contract with neighboring Pike County, outbidding Mid Georgia Ambulance; the company began their tenure in Pike on July 1.
Chairman Blackston stated he had been contacted by local attorney Johnnie Caldwell, Jr., who represents Grady EMS, and Bill Compton, Vice President of Grady EMS, and asked the board if pursuing the matter further is something they would like to do. Commissioner Steve Hudson stated he did not think the board had any choice but to do so, given the difference in cost of the services from each company. When the county awarded the contract for the ambulance service with Mid Georgia, it was for five years at $300,000 per year with no increase. Prior to the change, Upson County had a contract with Upson EMS through Upson Regional Medical Center, which was for $616,000 per year with a three percent increase each year. Blackston did not state the amount quoted by Grady in the letter due to the fact the contract would have to be bid out if a change was made.
“It is a substantial amount difference,” Blackston said in reference to the contract amount.
Blackston noted that one of the main complaints the county has received since Mid Georgia took over operations is with the company’s response time to calls. Darrell Riggins, Operations Manager for Mid Georgia was present at the meeting and Blackston addressed him when discussing the matter.
“Darrell, I’m not trying to kick you under the bus, but we’ve had a lot of complaints, especially from our volunteer fire department responders,” said Blackston, “that they are getting tired of waiting 45 minutes to an hour plus for EMS units to get to the scene.”
Blackston added that he did not know if that was factual information or not, to which Riggins stated he did not think it was. Commissioner Lorenzo Wilder asked if the county had any information from E-911 showing the response times, because he felt a comparison was needed before the board could make a decision on the matter.
“We need to see what the current contract people are doing versus what we expect them to do,” said Wilder.
Commissioner Ralph Ellington added that he has heard “horror stories” as well and would like to see some documented facts to go by rather than just what he hears around town. Riggins told the board that he had several months’ worth of reports that he could bring by the office for them to look over. County Manager Jim Wheeless told the board from the reports he has seen in the past the longest response time had been 27 minutes.
“Even if it compares apples to apples and everyone is on the same playing field, it comes down to the dollar amount,” said Blackston.
Wheeless stated that while the county has the option to bid the contract out, under the current contract Mid Georgia must be given 180 days notice if the contract will be ended early. However, Mid Georgia owns the zone license for the area and if the board was to award Grady EMS or any other company the contract, the license would be sent to the state and the state zoning committee would than decide which company is best suited to serve the area.
Commissioner Ellington stated that one of his concerns deals with what the entity will do in the event of a catastrophe if they need backup. Ellington added that he knew when Mid Georgia was also in Pike County, they could pull staff from there if needed, but what would happen now that they are no longer the EMS service there? Riggins stated that as of July 1, Mid Georgia has kept all but two of their employees from the Pike County office. He also noted an extra truck will be put in Upson County and Lamar County and if needed, they can pull from their office in Crawford County. Riggins also told the board there are a total of four trucks in Upson County now, with three of those being 24 hour shift trucks and one being a day shift truck (16 hours).
The commissioners did not make any decision during the meeting; however, Blackston stated they would be gathering information about the contract over the next couple of weeks.
Ashley Biles can be reached by calling 706-647-5414 or on Twitter @AshleyBiles1