Priority responds to complaints, promises improved ambulance services

NEMiss.News Tony Anteau at County Supervisors' meeting
Tony Anteau, of Priority Ambulance, addresses the Union County Supervisors on August 1, 2022.



The privately-owned Tennessee company that provides ambulance service in Union County says it has made changes to help it do a better job in life-or-death emergencies.

Local law enforcement and other public safety personnel have complained during recent years that ambulances were sometimes not available when needed to transport accident victims and others urgently in need of emergency medical care.

On July 17, 2017, Walter Grace, then the CEO and Administrator of Baptist Memorial Hospital-Union County (BMHUC), told the Union County Board of Supervisors that Priority Ambulance Service would be taking over operations of the ambulance service previously provided by the hospital. Those changes took effect Aug. 15, 2017.

Founded just eight years ago in 2014, Priority Ambulance is headquartered in Knoxville, TN. A for-profit operation, Priority now operates ambulance services in 14 states, including New York, Virginia, Maryland, Arizona, Wyoming, Tennessee, Mississippi and Tennessee.

Priority has been recognized by Inc. Magazine for five consecutive years as one of the “5,000 Fastest-Growing Private Companies in America.” Priority employs about 4,100 paramedics and EMTs and operates 840 ambulance vehicles across the United States. The Inc. “5,000 Fastest” evaluation is based on the gross revenue, profitability and other financial performance factors of the companies it rates.

Concerned about what it believed was ambulances too often not being available when needed for emergencies, the Union County Board of Supervisors started working on a plan earlier this summer to impose its authority over the operation of ambulance services. The county board had drafted a 16-thousand-word, 23-page “Ordinance Adopting Regulations for Ambulance Services in Union County, Mississippi.” The proposed ordinance laid out in considerable detail and technical language exactly what would be required of emergency ambulance services allowed to operate in Union County.

“We have a responsibility to the people of Union County to see that they have good ambulance service,” said Union County Board of Supervisors President C. J. Bright.

The ambulance ordinance was on the agenda for the August 1 meeting of the supervisors. Tony Anteau, whose business card identifies him as “Regional President Baptist Ambulance” and shows a priority email address, attended that August 1 meeting, as did James Grantham, now the CEO and Administrator of Baptist Memorial Hospital-Union County.

NEMiss.News Front door at Priority Ambulance operations facility.

Front door at new Priority Ambulance operations facility.

During the meeting Anteau asked the board, “Is there really a need for an ordinance?”

Anteau said Priority would be willing to discuss with the board “parameters” regarding ambulance service. “I think most of what you are trying to accomplish through the ordinance can be accomplished through other mechanisms,” he said.

Baptist Administrator Grantham asked the board to delay action on the proposed ordinance for 90 days, and the board agreed.

County Board members had discussed complaints about ambulance service with Priority and Baptist officials before the board’s official Aug. 1 meeting, and those discussions have continued during the past four weeks.
In response to questions from NEMiss.News, Priority gave us a written statement late Friday afternoon, Aug. 26. The Priority statement says in part, “Priority Ambulance [has now] increased the number of staffed ambulance hours by an additional 40 hours each week. Priority Ambulance provides two 24-hour ambulances seven days a week staffed with a paramedic and EMT. An additional ambulance covers the peak hours of the day when 911 call demand is highest. This peak ambulance was extended from 10 daily hours to 12 hours and was extended from four days (Monday-Thursday) to seven days a week.”

The August 26 statement from Priority also says it is working with Union County to “transition the radios in its ambulance and emergency vehicles to the statewide radio network to further improve communications between local first response agencies and dispatch center.” Snarled and inaccurate communications from the Priority dispatching operation in Memphis have been blamed for some of the emergency response problems.

Late in July, Priority moved the base of its Union County operations from a building on the Baptist-Union County campus to a building across from New Albany High School on Highway 15.

NEMiss.News Priority Ambulance facility on Hwy. 15 in New Albany.

Priority Ambulance’s new operations facility on Hwy. 15 in New Albany.

It is believed the Highway 15 location could improve response times, because it will give quicker access to Interstate 22 and to the residential neighborhoods north of the Burlington Northern-Santa Fe railroad tracks.

Access to I-22 from the hospital is often slow because of the heavy traffic and too many traffic lights at the intersection of Highway 30 and the interstate highway. Access to the northside neighborhoods from the hospital is slow because of traffic through downtown and only one unimpeded downtown crossing of the railroad.

Will the changes made by Priority significantly improve ambulance service in New Albany and Union County?

Board President Bright told us, “Right now, everything is working a lot better than it has in the past. The ambulance availability and response time is better.”

Experience in coming months will tell the tale.

It is believed unlikely that the county board will move forward with its ambulance ordinance at this time.


Walter Grace tells county board in 2017 that Priority will operate ambulances:


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