By Leslee Kulba- The Buncombe County Commissioners unanimously approved entering into a contract with Management Solutions for Emergency Services, a company based in Denver, NC. Medical Emergency Ambulance, Inc., dba MEDIC, was seeking a franchise so its ambulances could respond to 911 calls. Attorney Mike Frue said the county had no standard procedure for evaluating franchise submissions, and although the paperwork appeared to be in order, he recommended submitting it to a third-party review. MSES would be contracted to assess whether the public will be served by the franchise, whether the application is complete and accurate, if there is sufficient evidence to demonstrate MEDIC’s competence, and whether it holds all necessary licenses.
Frue and County Manager Mandy Stone recommended contracting with the consultant in light of all the problems the administration had inherited due to insufficient due diligence. Commissioner Mike Fryar questioned the utility of the exercise and asked how much it would cost. Frue said Keith Bost of MSES was willing to be as thorough as the county wanted, and could negotiate terms of payment. Frue expected the work would cost no more than $10,000 and be completed in January. Answers to questions from Commissioner Joe Belcher indicated MSES would make recommendations that would be addressed without much ado.
MEDIC, a for-profit company, started working in Buncombe County in 1988 with two Ford trucks. It had grown to run several ambulances. Then, the county changed its ordinances to limit all franchise agreements to five years. When MEDIC applied for a renewal, the county denied the request.
Emergency Services Director Jerry Vehaun explained the rejection at the time. Deficiencies in the application included submitting a balance sheet when an audited financial statement was required. Two more strikes against the applicant were that the county’s emergency response plan made no provision for private franchises and chiefs of fire departments running ambulances in the county recommended against the franchise. The necessary paperwork has since been submitted., and the chiefs of Skyland and Barnardsville now support the franchise.
Without it, MEDIC has continued to provide services for the VA Hospital, Park Ridge Hospital, and Care Partners Hospice. It helped with the wildfires last year, and it stations vehicles on standby at racing events and for scouting outings and youth sports. Representatives of the company have spoken to the commissioners on many occasions through the years, asking permission to, as Commissioner Mike Fryar pointed out, provide the same services they were supplying four years ago.
In a presentation, Kermit Tolley, Jr. showed the commissioners slides of MEDIC’s facilities and fleet. He shared that MEDIC is on a list of agencies the federal government recommends for caring for veterans. All its vehicles are certified by the North Carolina Office of Emergency Medical Services, and all are inspected at least once a year. Paramedics get daily and monthly training, and they provide training to other organizations, like the annual CPR class for Metropolitan Sewerage District employees.
Whenever MEDIC personnel have come before the commissioners to ask permission to expand their services to the community, they speak of their passion to help. This time, Tolley told of a recent experience at the Myrtle Beach Speedway. He was attending as a crew member for a racing team with two other MEDIC employees. A driver hit the wall, and as soon as they saw the venue didn’t have adequate emergency services, they rushed to the scene to pull the driver from the car, called 911, administered CPR, and made “every effort” to save him. Tolley rode with the victim to the hospital where he died later. “It don’t matter where we’re at, our dedication is to help the public. That’s what we live for,” said Tolley.
As in former presentations, Tolley stressed the importance of allowing the nearest ambulance to respond to an incident. This time, the request may have resonated more, as mass shootings and natural disasters dominate news cycles, and the commissioners have made a commitment to combat the opioid crisis. At the US Cellular Center’s last DJ GRiZ, for example, MEDIC ambulances on standby treated seven opioid overdoses.
Only Chair Brownie Newman raised concerns about MEDIC. He said he didn’t question their competence, but was concerned rural fire districts may have to increase their taxes to compensate for revenues lost to offsets provided by MEDIC.
Tolley had said MEDIC was not going to take anything away from existing providers; it would merely fill in gaps. “Right now, our hands are tied because of a franchise ordinance. That’s ridiculous. I’m sorry,” he said. “In my line of work, we react. When we hear something, we react. We’re not looking at the geography of where we’re at. And the fear of getting in trouble for responding to a call in the county is there. We need to get way past that.”