Ga. EMS walk-out doesn't materialize following anonymous email alleging staff issues
Columbia county officials are investigating the email that said staff were "spread too thin" and would walk out on Monday
The Augusta Chronicle, Ga.
COLUMBIA COUNTY, Ga. — A threatened walk-out by the EMS provider for Richmond and Columbia counties did not materialize, according to Gold Cross management.
An anonymous email sent to Augusta and Columbia County commissioners said Gold Cross personnel are "spread too thin" and unappreciated by management. "There is absolutely no excuse for this company being ran so poorly with as much money as it brings in on a daily basis," it said.
Gold Cross has controlled the Augusta EMS "zone" for more than a decade, giving it exclusive access to emergency medical calls and a subsidy to cover unreimbursed expenses.
Over the last three years, former Augusta Fire Chief Chris James, with backing from some commissioners, grew the city's fleet of ambulances to three to pick up extra Richmond County calls. But the commission voted last year to take the three out of service.
Several commissioners were skeptical about the anonymous message, which was sent from an email account no longer in service. It urged EMS workers to call in sick Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday and get a doctor's excuse.
"This letter was written to do exactly what it's done — to stir up controversy and get a platform to get the Augusta Fire Department engaged in ambulance service," Commissioner John Clarke said.
The letter also coincides with Augusta renegotiating the subsidy and contract with Gold Cross, he said. Augusta pays the Martinez company a $600,000 supplement.
Commissioner Sammie Sias, who backed James' push to regain the zone and grow the in-house city service, jumped on the anonymous email as evidence of a problem.
"Anytime there is concern about the ability of this company to provide the critical life and death services it is very important, not a game," he said when adding the message to Tuesday's commission meeting agenda. "No accountability exists in the Memorandum of Understanding to ensure that the government can hold Gold Cross accountable for the service they must provide," Sias said.
Gold Cross Vice President Steven Vincent said despite the threat of a walk-out, the company of some 400 employees had 100% attendance Monday. It has, however, sought input from personnel about potential problems, he said.
Vincent questioned the letter's timing as the volume of calls has slowed as the pandemic has subsided, while Gold Cross already provides the holiday pay it demanded, he said.
Gold Cross provides staff with the newest of ambulances, cardiac monitors and other equipment, he said.
Any threat of EMS walking off the job must be taken seriously as it would cause a public health emergency, he said. Both the Columbia County Sheriff's Office and Georgia Department of Public Health are investigating.
Columbia County will have a report filed Monday, Sheriff's Maj. Steve Morris said, while DPH continues to closely monitor the situation, department spokeswoman Nancy Nydam said.
Commissioner Catherine Smith McKnight said she hopes authorities find out more about the allegations and their source.
"Let's let them do their jobs — let's investigate and we'll get to the bottom of this," she said.
(c)2021 The Augusta Chronicle (Augusta, Ga.)