The fix is in against ambulance contract extension

Sandra ClarkGossip and Lies

Somebody call E-911. Quickly!

The fix is in for Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett to take a rare defeat today at the hands of Knox County Commission.

Burchett, through the county’s Health Department, is recommending a 5-year extension of AMR/Rural-Metro’s ambulance contract, which was adopted without debate in December 2012 and provides for two 5-year extensions if approved by county commission – a potential 15-year contract.

As Burchett pointed out in a story by reporter Mike Donila, he was proud to sign the resolution because the previous contract had cost Knox County some $663,000 annually, while the new contract cost Knox County zero.

Ambulance providers bill insurance and private-pay customers. The county had previously paid a negotiated fee for indigent patients. Now the county pays nothing. It regulates response time and fees. (Updated 08/29/17)

Five years ago, Rural/Metro was locked in a bitter bidding war with American Medical Response (AMR). Most of the political establishment favored Rural/Metro, whose lobbying was led by former Commissioner John R. Mills and Cynthia Moxley of Moxley Carmichael Public Relations. The zero bid was brilliant, and Rural/Metro got the contract. Eight months later (August 2013) the company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

Local R/M executives formed a competitor, Priority Ambulance, in 2014. Its national headquarters are in Knoxville, in the Callahan Road site previously occupied by Rural/Metro. (Update: national headquarters on Codgill Road; local office on Callahan.) And its government relations team includes Mills and Moxley.

Rural/Metro was absorbed by rival AMR on Oct. 28, 2015. The combined company had 25,000 employees caring for patients more than 4.4 million time a year, according to a company press release.

Knox County Commission votes today on whether to give AMR an extension or rebid the contract. An extension will sideline Priority for another five years, unless AMR defaults on its response-time promises. According to Burchett’s request, AMR has scored 16 points (it needed at least 12) and deserves an extension.

Expect a spirited debate today (5 p.m. City County Building). Batman and Robin at the Focus newspaper have weighed in against Burchett. Commission chair Dave Wright said last week that some term-limited commissioners, such as Charles Busler, won’t have had a chance in eight years to vote on an ambulance contract if this one is not re-bid.

I’m counting 2 to 3 votes for an extension, not the requisite 6. But even if today’s vote goes against Burchett, remember that in Knox County a bid is not a bid. It’s an evaluation by a committee over in the Purchasing Department that meets in secret and won’t reveal its membership until after the choice is made. Who’s the man directing the Purchasing Department? Uh, that would be Tim Burchett. Stay tuned.

Sunday Talk Shows:

Jimmy Matlock calmly outlined the basis of his campaign for Congress on WATE Sunday, saying Tim Burchett is his friend and they agree on virtually every issue. The difference, he said, is that he has a business background (Matlock Tire), while Burchett has a career in politics.

Matlock is expected to have the blessing, if not the outright endorsement, of U.S. Rep. Jimmy Duncan, who is retiring after 30 years in Congress. Matlock handled himself well, except for that distracting red and white polka-dot tie on a blue and white striped shirt.

His chances of beating Tim Burchett? Slim to none.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.