EMS ‘letter’ passes Commission approves 10-4

A letter to Anderson County Commission that was meant to be a gesture of a willingness of the Emergency Services Department to work “hand-in-hand” with commission wound up being a bone of contention Monday night.

The letter was from EMS Director Nathan Sweet outlined three topics for commission:

1. The county will keep EMS.

Anderson County is not obligated by any mandate to operate an ambulance service for its citizens, Commissioner Steve Meade pointed out.

One option would be to bring in a private firm to set up and run such a service. The cost of such a move was not discussed.

Commissioner Tracy Wandell said it is believed privatization of the service would be “too costly.”

2. The county’s ambulance service would be set up as a “Two Division Model.”

Front line ambulances would be used for 911/emergency calls only. Convalescent calls would be handled by ambulances that do not carry the multitude of emergency equipment — a stripped down version of sorts of 911/emergency vehicles.

3. The ambulance service would operate with the understanding of variable time responses.

A realistic concept Wandell said because response times to high density population areas like Oak Ridge would be faster than response times to remote areas. “It’s just acknowledging there is a difference in response times depending on the area.”

The letter, however, drew a strong response from two commissioners (see related story).

Anderson County Mayor Terry Frank explained the latter before the commission Monday night was a suggestion from the EMS audit.

Noting the letter was a form of guideline, the mayor said, “The Commission would … Craft what expectations — performance expectations” it wanted from the EMS department.

She added, it was the EMS department and County Commission “walking hand-in-hand as the audit suggested.

“It’s not meant to be controversial.”

In response to the criticism of EMS and the letter, Meade said, “The County voted to have it (EMS) and fund it. The EMS has been dramatically underfunded since 2006. It is our authority and our responsibility to fund it.”

He also added that the motion before the commission to accept the letter was “about that.

“I don’t understand the controversy.”

The motion carried to accept the letter by a 13-2 (Commissioner Robert McKamey was absent from the meeting) “voice” vote. Commission Chairman Tim Isbel cited that the two “no” votes came from Commissioners Theresa Scott and Steve Emert.

After the vote Commission took a 15-minute break, and when it returned a motion was forwarded by Commissioner Scott to take a second vote, this time by “board” vote so that it could be placed “in the record.”

Commissioner Rick Meredith was not present for the “board” vote, something Isbel noted, pointing out that Meredith had voted “yes” in the voice vote.

“I don’t think that will matter though,” he added.

After the board vote two additional commissioners, Phil Warfield and Phil Yager also voting “no,” making the second vote a 10-4 split.