On New Year’s Eve, Fulton County Superior Court considered a petition for an injunction brought by the Georgia Association of Independent Ambulance Companies to halt the licensing of Walker and Dade counties to provide emergency ambulance services.
The GAIAC argued that the state Department of Human Resources, the agency that license entities to provide ambulance services, failed to follow state law in processing the licenses for the two counties.
Judge Henry M. Newkirk was the presiding judge hearing the case due to the fact that the injunction was filed on the afternoon of Dec. 24, Christmas Eve, requesting an emergency hearing on the following Wednesday, New Year’s Eve.
“The biggest argument they offered,” Walker County attorney Don Oliver said, “was that the Georgia Department of Human Resources didn’t follow state law in allowing enough time for notices to be sent out and hearings to be considered from other would-be providers of the service.”
Walker and Dade Counties were issued licenses to provide ambulance services to their residents on Dec. 11 by the Department of Human Resources.
“But lack of notice from Hutcheson Medical Center stating it would discontinue ambulance services forced DHR (Department of Human Resources) to move more quickly than normal because of the emergency situation,” Oliver said.
Hutcheson informed the DHR of its intent to discontinue the service on Dec. 2.
Judge Newkirk denied the motion in court, citing that the association failed to show it had been harmed and there was insufficient evidence that state law had been broken in the issuance of the licenses.
“Actually no law was broken because the normal three-month period that usually is given in the consideration of such a license is really only a best management practice used by DHR,” Oliver said. “The Georgia Board of Health felt completely justified in the DHR decision because of the potential of disrupted services due to Hutcheson’s untimely decision. Had the licenses not been quickly issued in the emergency fashion, the counties could not have secured replacement services in time to avoid the likelihood of a total lapse in service.”
Walker County began providing its own emergency ambulance service for its residents on Dec. 31, operating through Walker County Emergency Services.
Dade County entered into an agreement with Lifeguard Emergency Services to provide ambulance service for its residents on Jan. 1.
Hutcheson Medical Center began its emergency medical services in 1977 and has provided the service to the three-county area of Walker, Dade, and Catoosa counties until December 31, 2008.
Catoosa County opted to allow Angel Ambulance Service to provide for all of its medical transport needs as of Jan. 1. Angel had provided non-emergency medical transport for the county under Hutcheson’s emergency medical services.
Oliver said of Newkirk’s decision to dismiss the injunction, “Certainly the judge made the correct decision. Had he enjoined the counties from providing ambulance services, around 100,000 people would have had no emergency ambulance services as of Jan. 1.”
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