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Ambulance outsourcing off the table

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By Damon Lawrence

Roane County is no longer considering outsourcing its entire ambulance operation.  

“Not at this juncture,” County Executive Ron Woody said. “We’re at a point in time where we think this thing can turn around.”

Getting there has required some changes. Director Gloria Wright was demoted in April.

She retired instead of continuing in a lesser position with the department.

Woody announced that he was bringing in Howie Rose and Jack Jinks to oversee the operation. Rose is director of the county’s Office of Emergency Services and Jinks is a consultant.

Last month they gave a presentation on some of the policy changes that have taken place with the ambulance department.

“All employees are to be ready to work by 0800 (8 a.m.) hours,” Rose said. “In the initial days I had a horrible, horrible time with people blowing in there at 8 o’clock. You didn’t know if they were coming to work. It was hard to make assignments. It was horrible, so we had to tighten up on that.”

Rose said they’ve also had to tighten up on overtime.

“Overtime cannot be granted without my express approval,” he said. “When I say overtime, I mean above what they would normally work on their 24-48 shift.”

Rose said they’ve also increased the number of part-time personnel.     

“When I took over we had 20 part-time EMTs and paramedics, and to date we’ve hired 17 additional,” he said.

Rose, whose title now includes EMS director, said they’ve also been trying to change the culture within the department.

“There’s really two things we’ve impressed upon those folks down there,” he said. “One is accountability, because there was not any. Two, is employee ownership.”

“Those are the two big key things we’ve tried to constantly, constantly remind everyone at the ambulance service,” Rose added. “We’re going to have accountability and we’re going to have employee ownership.”

The county outsourced the ambulance department billing earlier this year.

Woody said he was prepared to recommend the entire operation be outsourced if things didn’t turn around.     

“We had our purchasing department do all the work they needed to do,” he said. “We had the RFQ (request for quotations) ready to hit the street if we needed to.”

Now he’s more optimistic about the department’s future.

“We think we’re going in the right direction,” he said.

The presentation also prompted a positive response from Commissioner Ron Berry.

He’s criticized Rose publicly in the past, but praised him for the job he’s done with the ambulance department.

“Good job,” he said.

“We’re not there yet,” Rose responded.