WISE - A proposed new ambulance service based in Big Stone Gap is on life support after Thursday's session of the Wise County Board of Supervisors.
Supervisors tabled a request by Darrell "Jack" Kiser's Abingdon-based Angel Care Ambulance Service for approval for Kiser to begin operating a branch of his private, for-profit service in Big Stone Gap, where Kiser has already established a presence pending approval.
Kiser said the Big Stone Gap branch would employ between 10 and 15 emergency medical technicians and other staff, but some supervisors - primarily Supervisor Bob Adkins - expressed dismay over the prospect Angel Care would pose competition for two existing private ambulance/EMT companies, LifeCare and Friendship Ambulance.
Supervisors also expressed concern over Angel Care's quality of service, mostly over two state citations involving two incidents of EMTs smoking while operating an ambulance.
Kiser said his investments to establish an outlet near the Country Boy Motel in Big Stone Gap are jeopardized by the board's refusal Thursday to grant approval to operate. Kiser said he wants to expand his business, employ Wise Countians, enhance the county's emergency response capabilities, and fill a need primarily in the non-emergency medical transportation sector of the enterprise.
"I hope I can survive another month," Kiser told the board after the matter was tabled until next month. "If not, it's Wise County's loss."
On Friday, Kiser said he was puzzled over Wise County's reluctance to welcome a new employer with open arms.
"As for Friendship and LifeCare, I'm not a threat to any one of those. I'm just looking to add to the assets of the 911 system over there. They talked about slicing the pie up in smaller pieces over there, and I'm looking to add jobs and add to the 911 system and, yes, I'm looking to make a living for myself and my employees," he said. "I'm not trying to cut anybody's throat or anything."
Supervisors were skeptical of Kiser's claim there is a need for another ambulance service in the county. On Friday, Kiser said Angel Care receives an average of four to five medical transportation service calls in Wise County each week, which is why he wants to open a local branch. Currently, Angel Care responds to Wise County service calls by dispatching units out of Abingdon.
Kiser said he employs about 17 people in Abingdon, and six in Charlottesville. He said he didn't anticipate a frigid response to his plans to employ 10 to 15 people in Wise County.
"The thing that kind of agitated me was (Wise County Administrator Glen "Skip" Skinner's) comments that my employees are incompetent," Kiser said. "My employees are highly competent. The one thing that really got me is there's not an ambulance service around that's not cited for something (by state inspectors). The two employees cited for smoking on my ambulance? I fired them. (Skinner) said I said my employees were cited for incompetence, and that's not true at all."
Skinner said Friday county officials are concerned that what Kiser is offering isn't really new jobs, "but they will just be redirected jobs. Our population in the near term is not changing, and people getting ill and needing services is not changing. It is just cutting the pie up smaller, so that's not good for anybody."
Kiser did a poor job planning his expansion, Skinner said, as well as inadequate preparation and ability to make available the sort of information supervisors need to consider such matters.
Kiser was also taken aback by the board's demand that he secure letters of mutual aid from all emergency responders across the county. If a rescue squad is booked up and gets a service call, it could ask another service for assistance, and vice versa. He said he would secure the letters, even though he would "have to drive all over the county" to do so.
"It does sort of threaten the whole thing, them tabling it like that," Kiser said. "I really didn't expect that."
Skinner said Kiser put himself in a bind by investing in operations and setting up shop as if approval was in the bag, then seeking official sanction afterward. He said the way Kiser went about things, Angel Care's bid unfairly placed the board in a pressure situation. Kiser created the bind, he said, not the county.
"Poor planning on his part doesn't constitute an emergency on our part," Skinner said.