Chief James has stood by his claim that the city should be the zone provider. He says there would be more accountability.
Ambulance questions stall action
Based on the discussions in both committee and commission meetings, city leaders seem to wonder who is holding the Chief accountable.
Two really big topics are at the center of the fuss– the RFP bidding process, which closes Friday, and fees August Fire wants to set if they respond to your medical call, regardless if gets the zone.
“The motion was on the agenda to pass a fee structure but theres no fee structure in the agenda.” Commissioner Hasan continued, “you have to come up with it pretty much out of your hip pocket.”
Hasan is talking about the chief. The commissioner explained he, along with his colleagues, did not see the fees ahead of the meeting. Claiming, it was not until the Chief was asked at podium where are the fees, that a list of fees popped up. Hasan argues there was a lack of transparency, that commissioners should continuously be in the loop.
But Chief James said in a Tuesday interview, “We dont move until they have voted so, we follow the instructions of commission.”
Yet, the question some leaders are still asking: are all the rules being followed to take over the zone?
Commissioner Guilfoyle asked Chief James which Ambulance companies has he talked to about the zone. James named Priority Care, South Star, AMR, Grady, and a few others. But the chief says it was neither during the RFP process nor about the RFP process.
An RFP or a Request For Proposal is the citys bidding process. The latest one from Augusta Fire is RFP #19-350. Its a 39-page documentwhere ambulance companies can submit an explanation of their rates, billing, and service, at a chance to be contracted out by the City. Thats if the City wins the zone come November. RFP 19-350 also says any ambulance service that wants to be contracted by the city has to have a logo on its trucks that states it is in full support of Augusta Fire.
Considering Gold Cross filed a lawsuit that says the EMS Zone process has been tainted, corrupted, and needs to start all over, future timelines could change.
In fact, in 2014 the EMS Council voted to give the city, or Augusta Fire, the zone. But a state judge came back in 2015 to reverse it. The judge cited Gold Cross was “light years ahead” of the fire department.
Fast forward three years later, the city is hoping a network of ambulances will give it a better chance at winning the zone. Along with the proposal of contracting ambulances out– at least $517,000 from the Fire Department has been spent in preparation.
Thats $39,000 annually to a new EMS Director for Augusta Fire, South Star EMS Training for fire crews– a two-year contract at $23,125, and $455, 216 towards two new ambulances.
AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT)– If it wasnt clear before, it is now, the city is in the ambulance business. During todays meeting that was solidified–and other things, like rate structures and fees, were not. Also in the ambulance debacle is a lawsuit filed on Monday by Gold Cross.
Commissioner Fennoy asked Fire Chief Chris James if Augusta is in the ambulance business. The chief affirmed it. Fennoys follow-up question was why. In an interview after the meeting, the Chief offered an answer.
“I believe that if the city of Augusta is the zone provider, that youll have more accountability.” Sticking to his position, he says, that if the city wins the zone, itll be in control of setting response times, fees, and rules.
That brings us back to the topic that lasted nearly an hour at commission– the fire departments fees for responding to ambulance calls.
Augusta Fire Department (AFD) says it has responded to 337 EMS calls in the last month, citing 36 of them involving transporting patients. If you ask the Fire Chief, that is potentially 36 missed opportunities to send a bill.
While some city leaders like Commissioner Hasan and Commissioner Frantom argue theres been a lack of transparency, the chief counters each move has been done with commissions approval.
AFD now wants commissioners to approve an $1150 fee plus $16.50 per mile if it responds to your call. Or, a flat fee of $200 if you end up not needing an ambulance ride. Yet, city leaders say they need more time to review the fees.
RFPs or Request for Proposals are now open to any ambulance service that wants to be contracted out by the city–if the city wins the zone in November. The EMS Region 6 Council recommends who should get the zone to the Department of Health.
If the EMS Region 6 Council puts the city in charge of the Richmond County EMS zone, Chief James plan is to have many different ambulance services answering calls. No longer just Gold Cross responding to your medical emergency.
If a company wants to be a part of the Chiefs plan, they have to submit proposal forms (RFPs) by Friday, September 21.
“When you have a system approach with the government as a part of managing it,” He continued, “it allows you to have a better negotiating position with any company.” Adding, “youre in a better position if the company wants to pull out, leave, or do something different, youre in a better position to respond to that.”
More companies in the mix can lead to faster response times, according to Chief James who cites another city in Georgia as an example of the approach– Columbus. He says the Columbus response time is at 6 minutes, instead of Gold Crosss 9 to 10 minute response time.
“Its about being purely able to provide adequate services to the citizens.” The chief went on, “Thats what our goal is.”
This comes after Gold Cross filed a lawsuit against Region 6 EMS council on Monday, claiming Chief James was supposed to recuse himself in the EMS councils decision-making process because he is the chairman of the council. The Gold Cross lawsuit alleges the chief has been and still is involved in the decision making. It claims hes using his relationship with council members as a means to influence the EMS Zone vote.
Contending the entire process to open the ambulance service in Augusta for bids was rigged from the beginning, current provider Gold Cross EMS is seeking an injunction to stop it.
Gold Cross filed a lawsuit Monday in Richmond County Superior Court against the East Central Georgia EMS Council seeking no monetary damages but temporary and permanent injunctions. The company became the emergency medical services provider for Augusta in 2014 based on the recommendation of the council, a decision upheld by the states Department of Public Health. The city contested the award, but courts ruled in Gold Cross favor.
The city had a contract with Gold Cross and paid a subsidy to the company to help offset the cost of providing services for people who cannot afford to pay and lack medical insurance to cover ambulance services. According to the lawsuit, Gold Cross submitted monthly reports that included response times, which the city never complained about.
But in 2017, things began to change after Augusta Fire Department Chief Christopher James was nominated to be chairman of the EMS Council. The lawsuit claims he used the position to further his goal of gaining control over ambulance services in Augusta.
Gold Cross filed suit late last year to prevent the council from starting the process to open the Augusta zone without putting the issue on an agenda. Superior Court Judge Sheryl B. Jolly sided with Gold Cross and found the council didnt provide proper notice.
James appointed John Graham chairman of the zoning committee, which would make the recommendation to the full council on opening up the zone for bids. Gold Cross contends in its lawsuit that Graham had publicly advocated against the company.
Gold Cross also contends that James abused his position as chairman and violated conflict of interest rules. On June 14, the committee voted to recommend the opening of the zone. Gold Cross alleges the committee never explained what it based that decision on or addressed the statutory factors that are supposed to be the deciding factors: economy, efficiency and the benefit to public welfare.
At the Aug. 2 EMS Council meeting, James limited Gold Cross to a 10-minute presentation, depriving it of presenting its side, the lawsuit alleges. Council members also didnt have time to review Gold Cross documentation that “disproved the fabricated need for any opening of the zone at this time as contended by the chairman.”
The council voted to open the zone. Bids are due Oct. 12, and the council will vote on who gets the zone in November, according to the lawsuit.