Ga. fire dept. pushes to take over EMS duties

Augusta Fire Chief Chris James brought the issue to city council to oust private EMS agency Gold Cross in a surprise presentation

By Susan McCord
The Augusta Chronicle

AUGUSTA, Ga. — The Augusta Fire Department's push to replace Gold Cross as city ambulance provider advanced Thursday with an unannounced presentation by Commissioner Sammie Sias at a Region 6 EMS Council meeting in Washington, GA.

Augusta Fire Chief Chris James, who in August defeated Gold Cross CEO Vince Brogdon by a single vote to become chairman of the 13-county council, added the presentation to the agenda at the meeting's end.

The regional councils recommend who gets to provide EMS service in Georgia counties, subject to approval by the Georgia Department of Public Health. In 2012, the council agreed to split what was a zone shared by Augusta and Gold Cross, and gave Gold Cross the zone, a decision the city fought in court until losing earlier this year.

After Augusta lost the zone, the city commission voted to reduce, then eliminate this year, what had been a $1.1 million EMS subsidy after Gold Cross refused to agree to the city's contract terms. Gold Cross subsequently raised some of its charges, such as for calls that don't result in a patient transport. Last week, Augusta told its firefighters not to assist the paid provider with lifting patients unless a life was at stake.

Augusta commissioners cited the unexpected charges' impact on constituents when the commission voted unanimously last month to pursue the zone and Sias presented the request to the council.

"We feel, at this time, the economy, efficiency and benefit to the public welfare is falling short," Sias said, using language from the council's zone criteria.

James said he wanted to retain Warren County Commission Chairman and council member John Graham as chairman of the council zoning committee, which will examine the evidence in the zone decision and have an Augusta appointee on the committee.

At that point, Brogdon stood and announced his objection to the move, stating Gold Cross intends to work things out with Augusta.

"Gold Cross intends to collaborate with the city of Augusta through discussions, which we believe will resolve and satisfy any and all concerns of the city in regard to the 911 zone," Brogdon said, asking to postpone the vote until the next quarterly council meeting. He would not elaborate on the discussions after the meeting.

James responded Gold Cross could present its objections at the committee or council meeting; Brogdon said not delaying the decision will impair discussions with Augusta. "Richmond County has made our decision," Sias added. The debate continued on for several minutes. Both James and Brogdon brought their organization's attorneys to the meeting.

Brogdon had six votes in support of delaying the action, including one from council Vice Chairwoman Jennifer Weeks. "This is not an item that was discussed ahead of time, nor was it on the agenda," Weeks said.

Augusta Fire Department lacks the capacity to provide ambulance service to residents and creating the service would require millions in investment. If the government won the zone, the city could hire another provider. The council, which does not record the names of member votes, cast 13 votes in favor of moving forward with Augusta's request.

Copyright 2017 The Augusta Chronicle

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