AMR spars with Tenn. county over funds
The ambulance company has given the county the end of the month to increase their $1.7 million contract
By Linda A. Moore
The Commercial Appeal
SHELBY COUNTY, Tenn. — Ambulance provider American Medical Response has notified Shelby County government it is not making money under the current $1.7 million annual contract and given the county until Aug. 31 to pay more or end the agreement.
Officials with Colorado-based AMR sent a letter to county fire Chief Alvin Benson last month detailing the proposed changes. It was not immediately clear how the proposed changes would affect fire fees or ambulance service for the areas that are part of the contract: unincorporated Shelby County and Arlington, Lakeland and Millington.
Those figures are dependent on how the county proceeds with the service.
AMR has proposed three options: first, creating a hybridized service paying AMR an additional $2.2 million per year and requiring the Shelby County Fire Department to staff two ambulances and make calls; second, increasing the contract by $2.8 million per year; third, terminating the agreement after 120 days, allowing the county to bid the contract again.
"I don't know what we're going to do yet. We've got 'til the end of the month, and we're looking at options," said Harvey Kennedy, county chief administrative officer.
He has also not ruled out the county providing ambulance service — buying the necessary equipment and hiring trained personnel.
Adding to the dilemma, the demand comes more than a month after the county adopted the 2017 budget.
"That makes it a little more difficult, there's no doubt about that. But we will deal with it. I just don't know how yet," Kennedy said.
The county entered into a five-year contract with AMR in 2013, ending a 15-year relationship with Rural/Metro, which has since been acquired by AMR.
Collierville has a separate contract with AMR and there's no indication it's going to change. Bartlett and Germantown provide ambulance service directly through their respective city budgets.
Officials with AMR wrote that they have to renegotiate the contract because revenue is falling short.
"At this time, we have not found a solution that bridges the gap and so an amendment to the existing contract is a necessary step," company representative Kim Warth wrote in a statement Monday.
One group that will review the situation is the Emergency Medical Review Oversight Committee, or EMROC, which consists of officials with Shelby County and municipalities under the ambulance contract, said the chairman of the committee, Millington Fire Chief Gary Graves.
The committee will meet at a date to be determined and make a recommendation to the governing boards of Arlington, Lakeland and Millington.
After that, the respective municipal boards will tell EMROC how they'd like to proceed, and EMROC will give a report to the Shelby County government. Finally, the matter will go to the Shelby County Commission, he said.
"We're gonna continue one way or the other," Graves said. "There will continue to be quality (emergency) service for all of our respective communities."
County Commissioner Mark Billingsley, chairman of the law enforcement, fire, corrections and courts committee, said he has not been advised of the issue with the AMR contract.
But Billingsley notes he pushed for Germantown to take over its ambulance service while an alderman in the suburb and sees nothing wrong with the county doing the same.
"I think Germantown has done an extraordinary job with ambulance service so I would be open-minded with the county doing the same," Billingsley said. "However, a lot of due diligence and homework would have to be done, I think, for the county to consider that."
What has worked for Germantown, which established its own service in 2013, is that residents who use it are able to pay the bill, he said.
Copyright 2016 The Commercial Appeal