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City ambulance debate
hits wall on legal issues

By Chris Paschenko 340-2442

Despite holding a work session Monday on Decatur's ambulance dilemma, the City Council has yet to receive the nod from its attorneys to move forward with selecting the best emergency medical service for its citizens.

In a meeting at the Community Free Clinic of Decatur/Morgan County, Dr. Larry Sullivan, chairman of the city's EMS Committee, told the council why the group is urging the city to franchise only one ambulance service for the city and its three-mile police jurisdiction.

Council President Billy Jackson said the council is waiting for legal issues to be resolved. When asked after the meeting about the specifics of the legal issues, neither Jackson nor City Attorney Herman Marks elaborated.

"I hope it will be resolved very quickly," Marks said.

In November, seven members appointed by the EMS Committee interviewed six competing ambulance services and overwhelmingly recommended the city contract with Care Ambulance of Alabama.

Dell Gamble, director of Care Ambulance, said the company is willing to wait out the legal process that is apparently the last obstacle to the council voting on the new ambulance contract which takes the form of a request for proposal.

"We thought we'd be up and going by now, honestly," Gamble said.

Barney Lovelace, attorney for the current ambulance service Decatur Emergency Medical Services Inc., said the company is operating under an agreement and that its rights must be respected.

"(Our) position is that the request for proposal is contrary to the procedures of setting up for the permitting of an ambulance company in the city of Decatur," Lovelace said. "The current certificate-of-public-need process does not provide for an exclusive contract."

The new contract — which is under such legal scrutiny — has a provision for an exclusive contract, Lovelace said.

Sullivan and EMS Committee member Dr. Dale Trammell met with Lovelace after the work session to discuss legal issues.

"I want the city to sort that out," Sullivan said. "Our preferred choice is, if it's legally possible, to have one service provider."

Sullivan said the committee's second choice is to contract with Care Ambulance to run the city's emergency calls and split the more profitable hospital transfers between Care Ambulance and another service, such as Decatur EMS.

"Or the third option which is a free-for-all," Sullivan said, describing the city of Hartselle's policy of using a rotation service to accommodate all comers.

"We don't have two fire departments, and we don't have two police departments," Sullivan said. "EMS service falls under that (category)."

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