County votes to rebid ambulance service

“There’s no easy answer. If there was an easy answer, we’d have already done it.”

It was this point, by county attorney Roger Bedford, and all the many implications and considerations, that drove a nearly one-hour special called county commission meeting Monday, in which the commission, Bedford and EMS Committee members Roy Gober and Joe Mansell discussed the decision to rebid the county ambulance contract. But after all the what-if’s, county commission members voted unanimously to approve the process to request for proposals for ambulance service in Franklin County.

Commissioners Chris Wallace, Jason Miller and Rayburn Massey – Don Hastings was absent – voted in favor of the rebid following the lengthy discussion on potential pitfalls – primarily, the possibility of a gap in service if the process for any reason does not go smoothly and the recognition that there are no guarantees the grass is greener on the other side.

“Right now, you have a legally-binding contract,” Bedford said. “Because of bad press, the existing (ambulance service) is willing to let us out of it … But there’s not guarantee we’re going to get even as good as what we’ve got. I understand people aren’t happy, but what’s the guarantee you are going to get as good as you’ve got?”

Bedford also advised the commission to be aware that if the county rebids the contract and then rejects all bids, Shoals Ambulance could take the opportunity to nevertheless continue with the agreement to dissolve its contract with Franklin County – leaving the county with a gap in service. “Legally, the worst thing you can do is get caught in a gap,” Bedford said.

Pointing to slow response times and unsatisfactory availability of ambulances on duty in Franklin County – fewer than in the three requested in the original contract, and suspected even fewer than the 2.5 promised in the renewal contract – commission members agreed service can’t get much worse than it is at present, which led to the unanimous vote to rebid.

In a unanimous vote Sept. 1, the EMS Committee voted to recommend the county commission rebid the ambulance contract, as concerns and complaints have continued to circulate and grow in regards to Shoals Ambulance’s service. Shoals Ambulance originally received the county contract in September 2014 and a renewal September 2015.

EMS Committee Chair Brandon James said the service is not consistently operating the contracted number of ambulances for Franklin County, which threatens the certainty of having an ambulance available when an emergency arises.

Committee members agreed that certain changes need to be made to the contract and bid requirements to ensure an agreement between the county/Russellville/Red Bay and the ambulance service that is acceptable to all parties and guarantees the level of service needed. The committee discussed those changes in a meeting Sept. 8 and will likely continue to review and solidify the minimum standards and contract requirements leading up a pre-bid conference to be held prior to bid acceptance.