Amid ambulance issues, Knox County to renew AMR contract

Jacobs said the contract’s changes should address hospital wait times for ambulances specifically.
Mayor Jacobs said the contract’s changes should address hospital wait times for ambulances specifically.
Published: Oct. 26, 2023 at 12:11 PM EDT|Updated: Nov. 20, 2023 at 4:07 PM EST
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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) - Knox County plans to award American Medical Response, also known as AMR, with a contract renewal, sources in Mayor Glenn Jacobs’ office told WVLT News. The move comes during a time when the county is seeing later and later ambulance response times.

A WVLT News investigation produced several documents from Knox County, law enforcement and Knoxville Fire Department officials showing that AMR’s ambulances are not always getting to emergencies when people need them. One complaint from an officer at the Knox County Regional Forensics Center said they had to wait over 12 hours for an ambulance to retrieve a body that had been sitting outside in plain view of pedestrians.

Previous Coverage: Level Zero: Documents show dire state of ambulance situation in Knox County

WVLT News spoke with Jacobs in September about ambulance response times. Jacobs and AMR both said that the biggest hold-up is short-staffed hospitals.

“A lot of the issue is wait times at hospitals. What they call ‘wall time’ is how long it takes to unload patients as well as the volume of calls became overwhelming,” Jacobs said.

Now, Jacobs is saying that AMR will have another contract, one with “significant changes.” He said in a statement that those changes will mean fixes for many of the issues AMR and the county are seeing now.

“We all know that there have been some significant issues with healthcare and ambulance services – not only here but across the country,” Jacobs said. “Though this new contract and its significant updates won’t immediately fix all the problems, we feel like it will be a big step forward.”

The awarded contract, if accepted by AMR and approved by the County Commission, is set for five years, with an optional five-year renewal period afterward for a total of 10 years.

Previous Coverage: ‘This is a big problem,’ | Knox Co. mayor weighs in on ambulance shortages

Jacobs said the contract’s changes should address hospital wait times for ambulances specifically. The county hired a consulting firm to review AMR’s current contract; it found that ambulances were waiting an average of 53 minutes at hospitals. That’s 40 minutes above normal.

Previous Coverage: Knox County leaders meet to discuss future of ambulance services

“We still have high wait times at understaffed hospitals, but the new contract should help alleviate some of the associated issues, and, as always, we remain committed to working with all our partners to continually improve emergency access in our community,” Jacobs added.

AMR released a similar statement, commending the county for creating a new contract that, according to AMR, will make it easier to serve Knox County.

Knox County ran a fair and focused process and we are thrilled to win the competitive process and be able to continue our long standing service to the citizens here,

The new and much different contract will help address many of the problems plaguing the EMS industry nationwide and we salute the County for taking a different approach.

We will now get to work alongside our other local community first responders and hospital partners across the City and County to align on new EMS programs and innovations under the new proposal and agreement.

This contract will represent a new and exciting time for EMS services in Knox County and we are thrilled to be a part of it. We are excited for all of our current and future first responder employees to be part of this new innovative EMS system for other communities to follow….


Three other companies also threw their hats in the ring for Knox County’s contract, the complete details of which have not been released. However, based on AMR’s original proposal, the contract could cost between $2,072,467 and $2,892,467 a year, depending on if the county decides to handle emergency dispatch itself, or have AMR run it.

The Knox County Commission will vote on the contract in November.