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Puckett EMS Operations Supervisor David Gregg arrives at the Dunlap Station #10 adjacent to Erlanger in Dunlap. Puckett recently signed a five-year contract in Sequatchie County.
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Puckett EMS Operations Supervisor David Gregg departs the Dunlap station adjacent to Erlanger on Rankin Avenue. Puckett recently signed a five-year contract in Sequatchie County.

BY THE NUMBERS

Sequatchie County

Established: 1857

Population: 14.736 (2017 estimate)

Square miles: 260

Source: Sequatchie County, Tennessee, government and U.S. Census Bureau

A five-year contract approved last week by the Sequatchie County Commission extends an agreement with privately owned Puckett EMS to provide emergency ambulance service until 2024.

Puckett and county officials agree the arrangement has been mutually beneficial over the first five years, and the next five years look just as bright. The new pact "increased the number of contracted ambulances in the county and improves response times," Puckett spokeswoman Amanda Shell Jennings said in a statement.

The county's contract is set at $200,000 per year and includes the addition of one ambulance to the local fleet, Sequatchie County Executive D. Keith Cartwright said Tuesday. Officials also considered an option at $175,000 a year but services and the number of the ambulances remained the same.

The previous five-year contract was for $125,000 per year but also included turning over the county's four ambulances and some equipment Sequatchie was given credit for, he said.

Cartwright said he'd reviewed costs from the days of the county-owned operation and found it was costing about $500,000 a year, not counting legal expenses associated with suing to collect outstanding bills and costs associated with lawsuits filed against the county.

"Over five years, we estimate we saved over $1.5 million," Cartwright said. "It's proved to be a good decision. We're thankful to have privatized."

Sequatchie's county-owned ambulance service struggled for years with bookkeeping issues and billing problems going back to at least 2006. The county in 2007 had to transfer $40,000 to county emergency services to keep ambulances on the road after billing got behind. By 2009, the service was beginning to gain ground on the imbalance, as it applied to the county general fund, and the troubled ambulance service had managed to get back in the black.

Erlanger Health System opened a satellite emergency department in Sequatchie County in 2014. At the same time, Sequatchie County issued a request for proposals for privatized ambulance service to the community. Puckett assumed the ambulances and equipment assets from Sequatchie County to begin providing service to the community, officials said.

"Based on their previous performance, Puckett EMS has been able to improve response time standards and increase ambulances in the new contract to ensure that performance remains at a high level," county commission Emergency Services Committee chairman Jeff Mackey said of recommending extending the contract.

The new agreement for 911 service increases the number of vehicles contracted to serve the county to two 24-hour ambulances, as well as improves response time standards in urban and rural parts of the county, Puckett officials said.

Sequatchie officials also lauded Puckett for providing emergency first-responder certification courses for local volunteer firefighters and free AED and CPR training to local schools and other public facilities.

Erlanger Health System vice president of operations Robert Tester called the Hamilton County hospital's choice of Puckett in 2010 the "right decision."

"Their leadership team has always been actively involved and has supported the hospital system's efforts in improving health care for citizens throughout East Tennessee," Tester said, adding that accomplishments in Sequatchie County over the last five years are "a shining example" of partnerships between hospitals and EMS companies.

Contact staff writer Ben Benton at bbenton@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6569. Follow him on Twitter @BenBenton or at www.facebook.com/benbenton1.

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