Ambulance service AMR faces commission questions

By Mike Steely

Senior Writer

The approval of the contract renewal for American Medical Response as Knox County’s ambulance service may not be certain given the remarks by commissioners Thursday. The special called meeting was to review the recommendations of consultant firm Fitch & Associates that chose AMR — despite its record of complaints, response times, hospital wait times and financial woes — from four applicants to continue as the county’s only 911 dispatched service.

The new contract would up the response time, rework the types of response based on medical needs, and require more ambulance stations around the county. The county, which normally subsidizes non-profit fire and rescue organizations, would kick in $2.1 million each year over the five-year contract.

AMR is pledging to use that money to hire and train new employees if its contract, set to expire on February 1, is renewed. The company is promising to abide by the contract and work with other first response units and hospitals, and to fall under the powers of a new Knox County Medical Director.

AMR’s difficulties and revenue loss over its past ten years of service to the county were exacerbated by the COVID crisis, inadequate staffing at hospitals, internal turnover, and repeated violations and fines, some forgiven by the county.

Nevertheless, the consulting firm, Fitch & Associates, reviewed the four applicants and recommended AMR.

However several Knox County Commissioners may not agree and had several hard questions and comments.

“There is still a lot of work to go,” said Commissioner Larsen Jay, who added, “You can’t blame everything on Covid.”

Jay and Commissioner Courtney Durrett wondered why the city wasn’t consulted in the study of ambulance needs.

Chairwoman Terry Hill asked about the priority of calls taken by AMR and the reply was that that 70% of the 911 responses turn out to be life-threatening.

E-911 Director Brad Anders told the meeting that there will be a new effort to code calls and that his agency will take over all emergency calls that will include not only AMR but the volunteer responders as well.

Commissioner Gina Oster said all the first responders and hospitals need to “sit down” and talk, adding, “This is more than an ambulance problem.”

Commissioner John Schoonmaker questioned the $125,000 paid to Fitch & Associates for the review. He questioned the “hurried process” to approve the agreement and said the commission may not have had enough time to review it.

“Who will be enforcing this?” asked Durrett. The reply was that a monthly response meeting would be held. She suggested AMR and the county visit local high schools to help with recruiting.

Hill said there needs to be more stations in West Knox County.

The commission may vote on the new agreement this month.