09/19/06 — Duplin asks to meet with JAS officials on lawsuit

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Duplin asks to meet with JAS officials on lawsuit

By Bonnie Edwards
Published in News on September 19, 2006 1:51 PM

ALBERTSON -- Duplin commissioners want to meet with officials from an ambulance service suing the county in the wake of alleged wrongdoing involving Duplin's emergency services director and another employee.

Commissioners asked county attorney Wendy Sivori at their meeting Monday to arrange a meeting with counsel representing Johnston Ambulance Service -- if such a gathering is possible legally.

The company is suing Duplin County, former EMS Director Curtis Brock and former employee Barbara Coman alleging Brock and Ms. Coman illegally entered the JAS database and stole patient information belonging to the company.

According to the investigation into the case, Brock allegedly convinced Ms. Coman, a former Johnston Ambulance employee, to help him obtain information about Johnston's list of clients, patient information and calls in preparation for discussions regarding non-emergency transport in Duplin.

Three other companies were on the agenda Monday to request franchises to provide the non-emergency transportation in Duplin -- Elite Medical Transport, East Carolina Medical Transport and Ambumed.

In addition to concerns about the alleged information theft, JAS attorney Bradley Evans said the county would violate it county franchise ordinance if it allowed anymore companies to offer emergency transport services.

Evans said the ordinance requires that a need exist for additional companies to provide the service, and there is none. He also said the ordinance requires that the additional franchise not adversely affect the level of services or operations of the other franchises.

"JAS's services at the present time are underutilized," he told commissioners. He said additional franchises in the county would dilute the level of service available and complicate the existing services available to county residents.

Commissioners tabled the matter of considering other franchises until after they meet with Johnston Ambulance Service officials and their lawyer.

The motion to hash out their differences in closed session with Evans and JAS came from commissioner Reginald Wells.

"They throw insults at us, and we cannot answer them," he said. "Tempers are going to be flaring."

Ms. Sivori said once the insurance company becomes involved, the county is supposed to turn negotiations over to them. From that point, she said, the insurance company is the one with authority to negotiate. If the county negotiates without the insurance company's lawyer, the county is no longer covered.

Wells amended his motion to include pursuing the meeting "if it is legally possible."

Commissioner Arliss Albertson gave the second, and the vote was 4-2, with commissioners Larry Howard and L.S. Guy dissenting.

The motion carried, and Ms. Sivori said she would find out if county and JAS officials can meet, but added that JAS officials might not feel comfortable meeting with commissioners in light of the lawsuit.

Albertson moved to postpone considering the other three ambulance companies' requests for a franchise. The second came from David Fussell.

Wells had left the building. The vote was 4-1, with Howard dissenting. Howard said during a break in the meeting that the lawsuit and the franchises are two separate issues, and they should be dealt with as such.