published Sunday, March 4th, 2012

Marion County ambulance contract praised

Ryan Lewis/Correspondent
  • photo
    Grandview CEO Bruce Baldwin, John Graham, Marion County mayor, Steve Puckett, president of Puckett EMS.
    Photo by Contributed Photo /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

JASPER, Tenn. -- Marion County officials are almost gushing over the new ambulance contract signed last week with Puckett EMS.

On Monday, the Marion County Commission unanimously approved the contract. Puckett, headquartered in Austell, Ga., officially took over the county's ambulance service on Thursday.

In the previous contract, the county paid Grandview Medical Center $180,000 per year to handle the ambulance service, but officials said the contract price with Puckett EMS is $150,000 per year.

"It's going to be a win for the county," Marion County Mayor John Graham said. "It's going to be a win for the citizens, and it's going to be a win for Grandview Medical Center. I think it's going to work out really well."

County Attorney Billy Gouger said he has reviewed the contract "numerous times" and it is a "better-written contract" that will be more beneficial to the county than the previous one.

Ambulances will be stationed in the same facilities they were under Grandview, but officials said Puckett will upgrade those facilities at no expense to the county.

One stipulation in the contract that makes county leaders especially happy is a mandated response time. Gouger said Puckett contractually is obligated to provide a 15-minute response to "most areas of the county."

When the county ran the ambulance service, response times were a major issue, and "it only got worse with this last deal we had," said Commissioner Tommy Thompson.

There are some rural parts of the county that Puckett could not include in the 15-minute guarantee, but officials estimate those instances will be rare.

"We have anticipated that [the rural areas] will only amount to about 10 percent of the response calls," Gouger said.

Commissioner Donald Blansett, also the board's Ambulance Committee chairman, said maps are available that show the estimated response times for all areas in the county.

"It's a better deal than what we had before," he said. "There's a lot more information and a lot more contractual obligations with Puckett than we had before."

Another past problem addressed in the contract is having ambulances transferring patients to and from Grandview Medical Center when the vehicles were needed for emergencies. That won't happen with Puckett, Graham said.

"If they do any patient transfers, it will be done with an additional truck," he said. "Unlike our previous ambulance service, they're going to use these ambulances and their personnel only for a 911 emergency."

The contract can be terminated if Puckett doesn't meet its obligations, Gouger said.

Officials said the contract also calls for Puckett to handle its own dispatching, as well as provide mutual aid assistance from its ambulances in Hamilton County and Dade County, Ga., if necessary.

"We've really got a good situation with [Puckett EMS] now," Graham said.

Ryan Lewis is based in Marion County. Contact him at ryanlewis34@gmail.com.

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