Cost for ambulance services in Augusta to rise after no decision reached on contract

News 12 NBC 26 @ 11:00 / Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2017

AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) --The price you pay for an ambulance ride in Augusta is going up. Augusta commissioners tried again to strike a compromise between the city and Gold Cross, but a tie vote broken by the mayor left things the way they were.

The end of the year brought the end of the city's contract with Gold Cross. At Tuesday's commission meeting the commission tried again, and failed to reach a compromise.

"There was a decision to act upon and negotiate around the 380,000 dollars. If that's where we go and they refuse it, there's nothing we can do about that," Commissioner Ben Hasan said.

Six hundred thousand dollars divides the cities offer from Gold Cross' counter offer of 900,000. Some commissioners including Wayne Guilfoyle, Marion Williams, and Grady Smith argued there hasn't been real negotiation from the city's end this whole time.

"I don't know any business man alive that could go over without looking at someone else's books and say we're going to take 700,000 dollars out of your budget," Commissioner Grady Smith said.

Commissioner Guilfoyle raised a motion to approve the 900,000 dollar subsidy for Gold Cross, and task the city administrator to find the funding to cover the 600,000 dollar difference. He argued they could find that 600,000 dollars to bridge the gap in a few areas including 100,000 dollars going to non-governmental organizations and an overage of 400,000 dollars that was budgeted for probation services.

The commission had a split vote on that motion of 5-5. Commissioners Mary Davis, Grady Smith, Wayne Guilfoyle, Sean Frantom, and Marion Williams voted yes. Commissioners Ben Hasan, Sammie Sias, Dennis Williams, William Fennoy, and Andrew Jefferson voted no. To break the tie Mayor Hardie Davis voted no.

That cut means you'll have to pay more for an ambulance now, including a response fee of 250 bucks and a rate increase.

"Because when we had the subsidy, that's just one of the things we included in their as a service we're providing. And our rates for ambulance transports are going to have to probably double," Gold Cross Chief Financial Officer Frank Lindley said.

The subsidy is supposed to help cover the costs for folks who can't pay, and for problems like non-emergency calls.

"We've become the free Uber. Anytime anyone wants to go to the hospital they call 911 and say I can't breathe. We get there and they have a bad cold," Lindley said.

The city administrator says Augusta's Fire Department helps Gold Cross with $750,000 of services transporting patients and responding to calls, and the new contract calls for more accountability while protecting taxpayers.

She issued a statement saying in part, "All totaled, the city will contribute nearly $1.3 million in 2017 to assist residents and visitors who have EMS needs, proving that we will contineut to be a strong advocate for quality care for the citizens of Augusta.

"I just think we need to come forward with the best result for the citizens of Augusta Richmond County and get them a service we can count on," Commissioner Grady Smith said.

For now, the commission is split and there's no compromise in sight.

The city already approved a 380,000 dollar subsidy when they passed the budget. Gold Cross has not agreed to the city's new contract that they put forward with that subsidy amount. The proposed contract is also supposed to more clearly define technology, number of ambulances on the streets, and GPS equipment to track response times.

The new rates went up January 1, 2017.

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