FLORENCE — For the second time in four months, the Lauderdale County Commission will vote today on an ambulance service contract for the county.
“I guess it’s time to move on, one way or another,” Commissioner Larry Irons said.
The contract has been a source of much debate in recent months, with current provider Lauderdale EMS and Shoals Ambulance Service submitting bids.
“It’s going to be on the agenda and now that the city (council) has voted, it’s up to the commission to vote,” Commission Chairman Dewey Mitchell said. “It’s time to put this to rest.”
Lauderdale EMS is based in Florence and under the umbrella of Helen Keller Hospital in Sheffield. Shoals Ambulance Service is based in Muscle Shoals.
County officials said Lauderdale EMS has agreed to continue providing ambulance service on a month-to-month basis until the bid is awarded.
The ambulance bid under consideration today is a joint bid between the city and county. Last week, Florence council members voted to accept Shoals Ambulance’s bid.
County attorney Chris Smith said commissioners can vote to join the city in the contract or award the bid to Lauderdale EMS.
“If the commission does not go along with the city’s bid, we go back to the bid process,” Smith said.
That has already happened once.
In that scenario, each government entity would negotiate its own contract.
In September, the City Council voted to award the bid to Shoals Ambulance, but the county voted to continue the service provided by Lauderdale EMS.
“We could be back to square one,” Commissioner D.C. Thornton said. “This has taken a lot of time to get to this point.”
The bids were opened in January.
Key points of discussion in the proposals have included the cost to customers and the number of hours the ambulance services will be manned each month.
Lauderdale EMS would charge less than Shoals Ambulance, but officials have said that’s not a big factor because most insurance carriers and Medicare pay a certain amount for the service, regardless of the amount charged.
Also, Shoals Ambulance states in the bid that its service will be manned 1,400 hours each month, compared to 1,008 manned hours promised by Lauderdale EMS.
Shoals also promises to have two paramedics on each ambulance, while Lauderdale officials said they would fulfill the bid requirement of having one paramedic.
Commissioner Roger Garner said he will be glad when the issue is resolved.
“I’ve looked at the bids back and forth. There are valid points on both sides,” Garner said.
This is the first time a contract for emergency medical service for the entire county has been involved in the bid process. Previously, county ambulance service bids excluded the area covered by Killen-Center Star Rescue Squad. In December, commissioners voted to seek an all-encompassing bid to include every municipality in the county. That will lead to the elimination of the Killen squad.
There are 14,000 households covered by Killen-Center Star Rescue Squad.
“Hopefully, we can all agree for the betterment of the people of this county,” Commissioner Fay Parker said. “What this boils down to is I want the best care we can give the citizens of Lauderdale County.”
Tom Smith can be reached at 256-740-5757 or tom.smith@TimesDaily.com.