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Ga. Committee Takes No Action on Ambulance Provider's Contract

Oct. 26--Commissioner Sammie Sias led a charge Tuesday for city ambulance provider Gold Cross EMS to "open the books" and justify its need for a government contract and subsidy.

The city's public safety committee, however, took no action Tuesday on the contract, which expires Dec. 31, or the subsidy, which City Administrator Janice Allen Jackson has proposed to cut by 65 percent.

"It seems whenever we talk about our emergency ambulance service, we seem to go berserk around Augusta," said Sias, who has previously called to end the contract and put the item on Tuesday's agenda. "Let's review a few facts about our Gold Cross issue."

Martinez-based Gold Cross has been Augusta's ambulance provider since 2005 in an arrangement orchestrated by former administrator Fred Russell. Two years ago the firm increased its grip on Augusta, winning state designation as "zone provider" with the exclusive right to respond to all EMS calls.

Sias said at an estimated price of about $1,000 per ambulance ride, before the cost of on-board care, the company could take in at least $40 million. Even if it can't get paid for thousands of calls, Sias said, Gold Cross could still gross more than $20 million.

If not, "open the books up and let it be seen," if the company truly needs a contract and subsidy to operate in the zone it bid for and owns, he said.

Sias also took issue with Gold Cross' assertion it needs a large subsidy due to Augusta's large indigent population, saying Augusta is home to thousands of insured current and retired government and military personnel.

"If we were that poor, why would we have 11 people who wanted to bid on this contract?" he said. "Why did this particular company fight us in court... tooth and nail to take the zone -- to take all these poor folks?"

Gold Cross CEO Vince Brogdon said he had a prior engagement and couldn't make the meeting, but has said that the company needs the subsidy to cover Augusta's poor, while the contract gives the city a degree of control over how service is provided.

Commissioner Wayne Guilfoyle said Gold Cross had invested about $6 million into its Augusta operations over the last three years for six new ambulances, public safety radios, new stretchers, a 911 recorder, cardiac monitors, software, a quick-response vehicle and other items.

Commissioner Marion Williams said the commission should have hired "Perry Mason" or "Matlock" in its unsuccessful pursuit of the zone designation that's now on appeal. Gold Cross is represented by former Gov. Roy Barnes.

Mayor Pro Tem Grady Smith said as a businessman, his records are "nobody else's business" but he is willing to "see what we can do to improve."

Commissioner Sean Frantom said "the fact is, there's a 29 percent poverty rate" in Augusta, while he'd been emailed EMS call reports other commissioners said the city had not been provided.

The committee received the discussion as information. Jackson said she believed Gold Cross was preparing a request for a new contract but had not received it.

Copyright 2016 - The Augusta Chronicle, Ga.

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