Ga. city officials to renew talks with ambulance service
Officials want to move ahead with Gold Cross EMS negotiations after a court threw out the process that might have led to the company being replaced
By Tom Corwin
The Augusta Chronicle
AUGUSTA, Ga. — Augusta Commissioner Sean Frantom wants to move ahead with negotiations with Gold Cross EMS after the city's 911 ambulance provider won an important court victory last week to prevent a regional council from considering other providers for that designation.
Frantom actually requested Wednesday night that Gold Cross issues be added to a Special Called Meeting for the Augusta Commission before the committee meeting Tuesday, days before Richmond County Superior Court Judge Sheryl B. Jolly granted Gold Cross' request that nullified the actions of the Region 6 EMS Council to pursue bids for Augusta emergency services.
"I just had a gut feeling that it was going to go the way it did and put it on the agenda," he said. Gold Cross is also willing to talk, said Chief Operating Officer Steven Vincent.
"For us, there are no hard feelings," he said. "We're the zone provider and we want to work together with the county. We want to put all of this behind us. This has been going on for far too long."
In fact, Gold Cross has twice requested to speak to the commission, in January and again in June, and has been rebuffed, Vincent said.
"We've been trying to talk to them and we've been denied," he said.
Gold Cross CEO Vince Brogdon sent a letter Monday to Augusta Mayor Hardie Davis and the commissioners noting that among other things the company has invested $12 million in equipment and facilities in Augusta over the last 10 years and wondering "why Augusta/Richmond County would even want to jump into the ambulance business and incur the expenses that it would take to duplicate what is already available. But if it is the considered judgment of the majority of the Commissioners that Augusta/Richmond County should play a greater role in providing Richmond County ambulance services, let us repeat again that Gold Cross is willing to negotiate for some of the services to be provided by Augusta/Richmond County and other services by Gold Cross. Unfortunately, we have tried to have those negotiations for over a year now, but representatives of Augusta/Richmond County have declined."
He urged the commissioners themselves to "act upon any proposed resolution rather than giving that authority to your subordinates who may have a different agenda."
The city and Gold Cross have been without a contract since the end of 2016, when the city proposed to cut the subsidy the company received from $1.08 million to $380,000, which Vincent said was unacceptably low considering the city wanted the services to remain the same.
"That's just crazy," he said. Gold Cross countered with nine ambulances instead of the previous 12 for a $900,000 subsidy, which was simply rejected, Vincent said.
"We kept saying we are willing to negotiate the contract but you've got to come up on the price. They said we're not negotiating the price, we're just negotiating the contract. That's kind of where it ended," he said.
Frantom included on his agenda item a number of issues related to Gold Cross, including a discussion of the subsidy.
"The subsidy is a discussion we need to have," he said, because without it Gold Cross has raised prices substantially and some people can't afford that. "At the end of the day, we've got to realize who we represent, with our indigent population. If we put a subsidy in, then the people who can't afford it, their bills would go back down (to) where they were before.
But Frantom also included a discussion of a number of accountability measures, such as the need for 911 to be able to track ambulance locations, a standard for response times and the possibility of forming a citizen advisory board to provide public input, as some counties do.
"I'm not going to agree to a contract with a subsidy unless there are more responsibilities," he said. "We need to hold them accountable because right now we don't have a contract so there is no way to hold them accountable. And people are suffering."
The city had asked for proposals for ambulance partners for the Fire Department to supplement its ambulances for its potential bid to become the emergency services provider but those bids will not be opened, city spokesman Jim Beasley said.
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