Laid-off ambulance worker speaks out

-A A +A
By Damon Lawrence

Jack Jinks’ first assignment was overseeing the Roane County Office of Emergency Services.
Now County Executive Ron Woody has him doing the same at the ambulance department.
“We’re starting a little bit more hands-on management at the ambulance department because of some of the issues,” Woody said.
The ambulance department was a hot topic at the Feb. 14 commission meeting. Woody assigned Jinks to the department the next day.    
“His job is to go in there and observe,” Woody said. “Interview the employees, fact finding mission and then to look at any changes that we may need to make.”
Woody put Gloria Wright in charge of the entire ambulance operation in October.
Last month she laid off two employees — Sonya Brooks and Karen Human – in the billing department.
“I don’t feel like it was fair that me and Sonya got chosen to be laid off,” Human said at the commission meeting. “We had more knowledge, but nobody would work with us.”
Human also said Wright was difficult to work for.
“She has come in there and pounded on Ms. Brooks desk, called her stupid and she has pointed her finger at both of us, and she has just belittled all of us,” Human said. “She thinks that she is the queen of the county.”
For months officials have been brainstorming ways to fix the financial problems facing the ambulance department.
Human said she and Brooks were often kept in the dark about what was going on.
“We had to endure countless secretive meetings that we did not know nothing,” she said. “Continual whispering about us, even heard conversations through the walls. When Gloria gets mad, she hollers loud.”
In the interest of fairness, Wright was offered an opportunity to respond to the comments, but declined.
“I have no response,” she said. “Absolutely no response.”
Even though Wright is the director, the ambulance department falls under Woody’s jurisdiction.
“You used the word layoff,” Commissioner Ray Cantrell said. “Does that mean there’s a possibility
of them (Human and Brooks) coming back?”
“No,” Woody said.
“How did this happen, and how could you blame the two girls that had it on there like that without giving them some kind of explanation before just firing them?” Commissioner Benny East asked.
“I think that you had a combination of things that were happening,” Woody said. “You had a set amount of billing that was coming in, had been the same amount for a number of years. That may be the best we can do, but the billing did not change. Should it? Were there things that could have been done a year or two years ago? It’s possible.”
Woody also said the financial problems can be attributed to the county’s decision to enhance  ambulance service last year.
“We decided in Roane County to improve our ambulance service by going from a 12-hour ambulance
to a 24-hour ambulance and putting a day truck on,” he said. “That move was a $400,000 cost to the county.”
“The revenue didn’t change,” Woody added. “It became pretty apparent that when you increase your cost and you don’t increase the revenue,  you’re setting yourself up to be in a budget that we were proposing to have $18,000 at the end of the year.”
Commissioner Ron Berry referred to a letter that Brooks sent former budget director Alva Moore last March.
Concerns were expressed about the new ambulance.
“I don’t foresee our being able to fund it,” the letter said. “The runs are going to have to increase significantly. We are only up a total of 15 transports for the whole year as compared to last year.”
Berry said that should have served as a warning.
“The billing clerk had notified, I guess, the director and budget director at that time that perhaps it shouldn’t have been done,” he said. “For whatever reason it was done.”
In addition to his job with the county, Jinks also works for the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency.
Last September Woody said he was assigning Jinks to OES to give the department some leadership and direction.
Human said they requested a “father-figure” for the ambulance department in October, but was not given one.
“Mr. (Howie) Rose was given one because of so-called problems with EMA and spending,” she said. “We were not given a father-figure, maybe because real problems are not wanting to be known.”