Lawsuit seeks to block new ambulance service in Morgan County

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DECATUR, Ala. (WHNT) - There's controversy over ambulance service again in Morgan County. A lawsuit was filed late Monday to stop an exclusive agreement for a new ambulance service for the county. Decatur's First Response Ambulance Service claims the new agreement is not only illegal, but puts lives at risk.

The language in the lawsuit is strong. It says the District (Morgan County Emergency Management Communications District, or 911 Board) is putting the lives it is bound to protect at risk. It says essentially by granting the exclusive agreement to Life Guard Ambulance Service, the county is in effect reducing the number of ambulances that will be available to answer emergency calls in Morgan County.

The lawsuit claims Life Guard proposes to put four ambulances in to serve all of Morgan County, with the exception of Decatur. The City of Decatur is served by First Response, one of the companies that sought the county agreement. When WHNT News 19 spoke with Morgan County 911 Director Ryan Welty earlier Monday afternoon, several hours before the lawsuit was filed, he told us Life Guard plans to have six vehicles covering the county.

But the lawsuit also claims the agreement with Life Guard Ambulance is itself invalid. Representing First Response, Decatur attorney Peter Neil says the 911 board didn't follow it's own rules in awarding the contract. "I think it will be undisputed in the end that Life Guard did not submit the documents that were required by the invitation to bid and that when it was discovered that Life Guard did not submit the proper documents that the 911 board allowed them to supplement that bid after the bids were opened which is a violation of the invitation to bid that they drafted," Neil told WHNT News 19 in an exclusive interview late Monday afternoon. He said the bid specifications stated no bid could be amended or supplemented after the bids were opened. Neil says an audited financial report and list of stockholders  was not provided by Life Guard until after the bids had been opened and reviewed.

Life Guard ambulance is scheduled to begin operations on July 1st in Morgan County. But here's the kicker: There's a third ambulance service that stepped up and offered to cover Morgan County during their time of need. Samaritan Ambulance Service covers much of the county, with the exception of Decatur. They stepped in after Crossroads Ambulance, based in Hartselle, folded last year and were one of the other companies that applied for the new county contract. Samaritan will now lose the right to cover the area as a result of the new agreement.

Welty, in 2014, announced his intent to establish a county-wide EMS system, utilizing one provider under contract with the Morgan County Emergency Management Communications District, or 911 Board, as a result of two ambulance service providers going out of business in the area in only a two-year period. County EMS Ambulance, also in Hartselle, closed it's doors not long after the City of Hartselle awarded it's exclusive ambulance license to Crossroads. Within a year, Crossroads shut down citing insufficient call volume and delayed Medicare payments that kept the company operating at a loss. Samaritan has been covering rural Morgan County, including the cities of Hartselle and Falkville, since then.

The lawsuit, filed on the behalf of First Response Ambulance, does not seek monetary damages but rather a court injunction nullifying the contract between Life Guard and the 911 Board.

We reached out to officials with Life Guard Ambulance Service approximately an hour after the 5:30pm filing of the lawsuit. The company's Vice President of Operations, Jason Kimbrell, told us the company would make a statement but indicated he would like to see a copy of the lawsuit. Morgan County 911 Director Ryan Welty said late Monday he had not seen the lawsuit and declined further comment.

First Response Ambulance Service Director David Childers referred questions about the lawsuit to his attorney but tells WHNT News 19 he does not anticipate any immediate changes in the level of EMS service for Morgan County. WHNT News 19 will continue to monitor the situation closely and let you know what develops.

View a copy of the lawsuit.