County files suit to block Jackson from hiring ambulance provider

An ambulance drives off a scene.
An ambulance drives off a scene.(WLBT)
Published: Sep. 18, 2023 at 12:52 PM CDT
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - A judge will determine next week whether he will temporarily block Jackson’s efforts to go it alone in providing ambulance services to residents.

A hearing has been set for September 26 before Hinds County Chancery Court Judge Dewayne Thomas to determine whether to grant a preliminary injunction preventing the city from hiring its own ambulance service provider.

Hinds County filed suit against the city last week, weeks after Jackson issued a request for proposals to seek a provider for ambulance services in the city limits.

[READ: Three firms vying to be ambulance service provider for Jackson]

Board of Supervisors Attorney Tony Gaylor got permission to protect the county’s interest at a recent board meeting, telling members that if the city hired a provider, it could put the county in breach of its current contract with American Medical Response.

Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba said Jackson is going to move forward with the RFP selection process, saying it has never been the city’s intent to harm the county.

“Our only effort in launching this RFP is to respond to the cries of our residents,” he said during his Monday afternoon media briefing. “This hasn’t been a weeks-long or months-long process... Over the course of several years, we’ve been in dialogue with the leadership of the county concerning this matter, and we felt we had no other choice in pursuing this on our own.”

A complaint was filed in Hinds County Chancery Court on September 12. AMR has signed on as an interested party.

According to the suit, the city’s move could “destabilize and disrupt the provision of EMS in both the city and Hinds County, [and] undermine public health and welfare.”

The suit goes on to state that the city’s efforts also “would greatly increase the cost of ambulance service throughout Hinds County, and such additional costs would be borne by the citizens of the city and Hinds County.”

“The contractual subsidy that Hinds County provides to Mobile Medic was negotiated based upon the expected revenue generated, including the city,” the suit states. “Removal of the city, which comprises the majority of Hinds County’s geographic scope, would render the current agreement financially unfeasible.”

AMR is doing business as Mobile Medic. The company has been the sole provider of ambulance services in the county since the city and county entered into their interlocal agreement in late 1990 or early 1991.

Jackson issued the RFP in response to numerous complaints from constituents, including Donna Echols, a North Jackson resident who recently told city council members that her ex-husband died after waiting some 90 minutes for AMR to respond.

[READ: ‘Beyond Belief:’ Jackson woman says ex-husband died after waiting 90 minutes for ambulance]

The suit goes on to state that Jackson’s RFP violates its interlocal agreement with the county, and argues the RFP is invalid because it was issued by the fire chief and not the mayor or city council.

Typically, RFPs do not have to be approved by the council or mayor, only the contract must be signed off on once a winning proposal is selected.

The county also argues that Jackson isn’t capable of providing the service. “As it currently stands, the city’s 911 dispatch center is significantly understaffed, resulting in many instances in which 911 calls are not answered in a timely manner or simply not answered at all.”

However, the suit says that Jackson’s service operated at a deficit and that by September 1990, the service was no longer “economically unsustainable.” At that time, the city and county jointly agreed to seek proposals for a private company to take over those services.

That same year, Jackson entered into an interlocal agreement with the county, in which both parties agreed that Mobile Medic would be provided a contract.

The city further “agreed... ‘that it will be bound by the county ordinances for ambulance service, will not operate an ambulance service, and will not adopt ordinances concerning emergency or non-emergency ambulance services during the term of the ambulance service contract, or any extension or modification thereof.’”

The county’s latest contract with Mobile Medic/AMR was approved in 2016 and extended for an additional five years in 2021. The contract is slated to expire in 2026.

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