Rural/Metro scaling back Loudon County ambulance coverage

After months of negotiations and confrontation, Rural/Metro Ambulance Service told the Loudon County Commission it is scaling back its Loudon County E-911 ambulance coverage in preparation for transition at the end of the year.

Rural/Metro will continue non-emergency services to the county.

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According to Loudon County Commissioner Van Shaver, Thomas Milton, community relations director with Rural/Metro ambulance, informed County Commission at Monday's workshop that it would be ending its contract with the county a year early.

The new agreement, if passed by commission, would allow Rural/Metro to end its contract to provide services for the county on Dec. 31. The original contract would have ended Dec. 31, 2015.

According to Shaver, Milton said the terms of the existing contract have changed so drastically that it would be financially impractical for Rural/Metro to continue for the additional year. Milton could not be reached to comment. Milton has accused Priority Ambulance Service of using bonuses to lure away its employees in Blount and Loudon counties.

"Rural/Metro will continue non-emergency transport services in Loudon County going forward, given several contracts we have in place with health care facilities there," said Erin Downey, Rural/Metro of East Tennessee regional director.

"We are also working closely with elected leaders to establish a timeline for making sure Loudon County's needs and contract provisions are met, with Rural/Metro's continued presence providing emergency services coverage at all stages of the County's expected transition of 911 emergency services."

Downey said that in collaboration with Loudon officials, Rural/Metro anticipates shifting its Loudon County E-911 coverage to one 24-hour ambulance unit and one day unit for non-emergency transportation for a period of time while the county manages its request-for-proposals process, which will be voted on at the Dec. 2 official meeting of the County Commission.

The change to the single unit would take effect in early December, and Rural/Metro will remain flexible to provide 30- to 60-day extensions of service if needed by the county, Downey said.

"Our Loudon County employees were notified in advance of this expected transition, and we anticipate integrating any impacted team members in the coming weeks and months within our larger service footprint in East Tennessee," Downey said.

Earlier this year, Priority signed contracts with Lenoir City and the city of Loudon. Confrontations between the two services were reported, including drivers swerving at each other and making rude gestures.

Rural/Metro said the Priority contracts infringed on its contract with the county and reduced the number of calls they responded to. In September, Milton said call volume was down by as much as 80 percent.

County Commission sent Rural/Metro a 60-day notice in August demanding it comply with the current contract. Rural/Metro responded by denying the contract was breached and asking for better communications in the future.

Shaver said Rural/Metro did agree to continue to provide services to the county beyond the December deadline if the county isn't able to sign a contract with a new provider by that time.

An RFP will be issued this week by the county with the hope that the process could be completed to for a new contract for county ambulance services by or near the Rural/Metro contract deadline, Shaver said.