Augusta reaches stopgap deal for ambulance service

Published: Jan. 24, 2023 at 9:44 PM EST|Updated: Jan. 25, 2023 at 5:45 PM EST
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AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - A day after city leaders rejected a contract with the city’s ambulance service provider, they went to a month-to-month short-term deal with the company to avoid a gap in service.

The Augusta Commission unanimously approved a month-by-month deal with Gold Cross Emergency Medical Services. It would cost $250,000 at first, then $150,000 each subsequent month.

The money source will continue to be American Rescue Plan funds.

Not everything is ironed out just yet. The start time is uncertain but soon. Plus city leaders will need to check with attorneys to see if the deal is legal to proceed with.

The month-to-month deal with Gold Cross will expire upon designation of a new provider by the state and when that provider is ready to start.

The decision came during an emergency meeting of the commission that began at 3 p.m. Wednesday.

The commission on Tuesday voted down a contract with Gold Cross after the company sought substantial subsidies – on the order of an initial $2 million, then $2 million more per year – from the city to continue operating here. Gold Cross blamed rising costs and the number of patients who don’t pay.

Gold Cross has already surrendered its emergency medical services zone, and its responsibilities will end Jan. 31.

The state will not allow the city to go without an EMS provider, Mayor Garnett Johnson said, so state-supported service providers will be designated for Augusta, most likely from multiple parts of the state.

“We need to be able to provide accountable ambulance service as people call 911. They have to have confidence that they’re going to be responded to in a timely manner. Right now, we don’t have a plan,” Johnson said after Tuesday’s decision.

Steven Vincent with Gold Cross says the zone can only be open for 10 days and then it closes. That may not be enough time for lengthy negotiations with a potential new provider.

And that’s where the short-term deal may help out.

Augusta does not have the resources right now to essentially operate on its own without an EMS provider.

But many wonder if the Augusta Fire Department could someday take on the role of Richmond County’s primary EMS provider as it has in the past.

The Augusta Professional Firefighters Association tells us while it’s not out of the question, there is a lot of work to be done before the organization commits.

The group said in a statement that leaders hoped an agreement could be reached with Gold Cross.

“Unfortunately, that was not the case and is cause for concern,” the statement said. “We will continue support the ongoing efforts resolve this issue and assist in anyway possible to ensure proper and professional EMS services for the citizens of Augusta.”

The group says it would support an emergency medical service run by the Augusta Fire Department only if it was a separate division within the department.

“The previous administration’s attempt to integrate the two fundamentally different services clearly illustrated the issues of staffing, funding, and recruitment that each division faces,” the group said. “We are just now overcoming the ramifications of that particular ill advised decision.”

The group says it lost 300 employees the last time this happened in a field already struggling to recruit and retain staff.

One of the biggest concerns of the group is an effect on fire response if a separate division of the department isn’t created specifically for emergency medical services.