No politics allowed in Hawkins EMS exploratory committee

Jeff Bobo • Oct 10, 2016 at 8:45 PM

ROGERSVILLE — The chairman of Hawkins County’s recently appointed exploratory committee that will advise the Hawkins County Commission on the future of its ambulance service said politics won’t play any part in their deliberations.

Rogersville physician Dr. Blaine Jones was named by the exploratory committee last week to be its chairman.

The committee, which has been asked to make its recommendations within six months, will meet again Tuesday evening at Hawkins County Memorial Hospital.

“We’ve got some knowledgeable folks on this committee who know a lot of EMS stuff,” Jones told the Times-News on Monday. “Then you’ve got two physicians on there who know the criticality of it all and urgency of it all. And then you’ve got a couple of business folks who can pore through figures and say, this will work and this won’t work, etc.”

Jones added, “We’ve been guaranteed open access to Hawkins County EMS’s books and financial records. I think people realize that we’ve got a pretty good bunch of people on this committee. Let’s see what they come up with. I think sooner rather than later we’re going to have a recommendation.”

The County Commission voted Sept. 26 to appoint an exploratory committee of health, safety and business professionals to provide the commission with a recommendation on how to proceed with ambulance service in Hawkins County.

That move was in response to the abrupt closing of Church Hill EMS, which closed its doors in August and declared bankruptcy.

CHEMS had covered the eastern end of the county for more than 20 years.

Although Hawkins County EMS stepped up to cover the entire county within hours of CHEMS folding, HCEMS has had some well-publicized financial difficulties of its own in recent years.

The financial stability of HCEMS was questioned again last month after it cut one of the full-time ambulances serving Rogersville — leaving six countywide. The University of Tennessee’s County Technical Assistance Service (CTAS) has recommended a minimum of nine full-time ambulances serve Hawkins County 24/7.

One specific question the exploratory committee will try to answer is the feasibility of a county-owned and -operated ambulance service to replace HCEMS.

The exploratory committee held its first meeting last Tuesday.

Aside from naming Jones chairman, the committee also appointed Stacy Mahan as vice chairman. Mahan is a critical care paramedic/flight medic for Wings Air Rescue.

Hawkins County Memorial Hospital President Rebecca Beck was named committee secretary.

Jones told the Times-News politics won’t play into the exploratory committee’s deliberations. The only consideration the exploratory committee will have is the health and well-being of Hawkins County residents, Jones added.

It was a point Jones also made to the County Commission’s Public Safety Committee meeting that he attended on Sept. 30.

“We’re not going to worry about the (EMS) board (of director), were not going to worry about the County Commission or Mayor Bailey,” Jones told the Safety Committee. “We’re going to worry about the citizens of Hawkins County and what’s best for them. Not that ‘my brother-in-law or cousin works there (at HCEMS).’ Then we’re going to make a recommendation and hopefully ways to pay for it.”

Safety Committee member Darrell Gilliam has pleaded with HCEMS for years to provide an ambulance closer to the Mooresburg and Clinch communities he represents.

There’s an ambulance stationed in Mount Carmel, Church Hill and Surgoinsville, but Hawkins County EMS recently cut one of its Rogersville ambulances that would serve the more rural and spread out lower end of the county.

“My concern as a physician, and what should be the major concern of everybody involved, is that every life in Hawkins County is covered,” Jones told the Public Safety Committee on Sept. 30. “Darrell (Gilliam) has always said, and makes a valid point every time he speaks, what about down there where he represents. There’s never a truck down there. If (an ambulance) in Surgoinsville gets the call to go to Mooresburg, that’s a 20 minute drive just to get there. In 20 minutes you die. I can testify to that after having a heart attack, how much time means. A stroke or a heart attack — that and accidents are probably the three main things you’re concerned about.”

Other members of the exploratory committee include:

• Retired surgeon Dr. Richard Mahalik, who helped set up Davidson County’s EMS service.

• Tim Strange, who is dean of public safety at Walters State Community College.

• Jackie Charles, who is a county school board member and a member of the Rural Health Consortium board of directors.

• Edward Alvis, who is a registered nurse and longtime EMT instructor.

• Ralph Darnell, who is a retired NASA engineer from Mooresburg.

• Registered nurse Michelle Maddox.

• Retired naval and NASA firefighter Bill Killen.                                                                                      

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