JACKSON COUNTY, MS (WLOX) - The debate over ambulance service in Jackson County is growing heated. The contract with Acadian, which has been in effect since 2000, expires at the end of 2016. AMR is gunning for the contract held by Acadian for almost 16 years.
"Since January of 2016, AMR has been asked by Acadian to respond to Jackson County 11 times for routine 911 calls; not mass casualties, not disasters," Chris Cirillo with AMR told the Jackson County Board of Supervisors.
Bennie French says Acadian calls for backup because they put patient care above profit.
"The fact of the matter is, we do call AMR for backup. If we see that they have a closer ambulance to a patient in need, we're going to call them," French explained.
The current contract calls for response times of eight minutes or less in the cities and up to 20 minutes in rural areas of the county; 80% of the time. Documents obtained by WLOX News Now, show that the threshold is being met.
In 2014, Acadian answered 11,385 calls countywide and and was on time 9,787 times, a rate of 85 percent.
But some elected officials, like Gautier Mayor Gordon Gollott, say the information provided by Acadian isn't thorough enough. A 12-page letter sent by the deputy fire chief to county officials outlines concerns.
"We have not seen any particular details on those, that's required in the contract. We have repeatedly asked for it and have not got it," added Gollot.
The EMS advisory board, which was formed to oversee the contract, hasn't met in more than 10 years. Supervisors recently voted to re-instate the board in case bids other than Acadian are requested.
"I want all the cities, the fire department, I want everybody to be involved in making this decision. Whether you keep the existing company or you go out for bid, I want them to be involved," Randy Bosarge explained.
Some supervisors say letting the board, and the oversight it provided, lapse was a mistake.
"I think it was probably a flaw. We don't know exactly what they are doing or should have been doing yet. But if they are there and overseeing the operation, I would say that's an important function," Ken Taylor said.
One of the functions is being on time, something that did not happen after a 911 call on Feb. 14 when an elderly woman fell in Ocean Springs. Dispatch traffic that night reveals that a backup ambulance was coming from Louisiana, and two other units were tied up.
The victim, 84-year-old Yvonne Stanfield, was lying on the floor for more than an hour with a shattered hip.
"It was frustrating to see her lying there in pain and stuff, and we couldn't do anything because her arm was like stuck underneath her body. too," said Yvonne's daughter, Cherie Auger. "But we had the firemen from Ocean Springs that came and they were wonderful."
French says those incidents are unfortunate and rare.
"We were in system status overload. That was Valentine's Day, February 14, obviously and we had multiple emergencies. We actually tied up seven ambulances."
Acadian receives a $180,000 a year subsidy from the county, but that is coming to an end. If Acadian stays, the subsidy will be just over $20,000.
"The subsidy was an issue for a couple of the supervisors and at that time we began negotiations on possibly removing that financial burden from the board of supervisors," noted French.
Still some supervisors, like Bosarge, want to see what the competition might have to offer.
"You have to look at all options when you're dealing with the taxpayers money. And not only is it about service, but it's about reliability and it's about overall confidence in the company that actually provides the service," said Bosarge.
Despite the criticism of Acadian, particularly their perceived shortcomings in response times, scores of city leaders across Jackson County have sent in letters in support of the company, as well as volunteer firefighters. Even some county supervisors, like Taylor, who have been critical, admit the company does a pretty good job.
"They have performed well. There are questions about some issues that we need to resolve. But overall, they've done a good job," said Taylor.
Until the new EMS advisory board is up and running, County Emergency Management Director Earl Etheridge is overseeing the contract, as he has for years.
County supervisors say they will take up the issue of whether or not to ask for proposals from other ambulance companies at their next meeting in June. If that happens, it will take several weeks to receive the bids, and then go through all the information.