Falls County could lose ambulance service

Published: Nov. 16, 2022 at 2:12 AM CST
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MARLIN, Texas (KWTX) - The clock is ticking in Falls County.

As it stands, after Dec. 31, the county will no longer have ambulance services.

“In seven weeks, we will have no ambulance,” said Candace Grams with the Reagan Volunteer Fire Department. “We, as first-responders, cannot transport anybody on our volunteer fire trucks, we are limited to what we can do but sit there and watch them.”

A meeting about the issue got heated Tuesday night at Falls Community Hospital and Clinic in Marlin.

“Sign the contract with AMR,” said Mike Bethke, a longtime first-responder and Falls County resident who works with AMR. “We need to get this done.”

The room was packed as Falls County’s Emergency Services District 1 board held its monthly meeting, days after failed negotiations with American Medical Response (AMR) ambulance service.

“I think we had a whole lot of people that were angry, and I don’t blame them,” said Wayne Young, President of Emergency Services Dist. 1. “We also had a whole lot of people that were totally uninformed as to how things work and how things go.”

Right now, the ESD 1′s annual ambulance service contract with AMR is for around $55,000 for one, around-the-clock ambulance (stationed in Marlin) and a second, eight-hour ambulance that runs Monday through Friday (in the Chilton area).

However, district officials say, starting in 2023, AMR is asking for $145,000, a 163 percent increase.

“We do not receive that kind of money in a year’s time,” Young explained to the crowd.

The ESD 1′s budget is about $130,000 a year, about $10,000 of which goes to the county tax office, according to officials, but the department currently has a $393,000 balance or ‘rainy day fund.’

Residents and first-responders at the meeting demanded the district pay the increased rate, saying there’s nothing cheaper out there.

“We need an ambulance service in Falls County,” said Grams. “They have reserve money to do that with, and then look at next year to see what they need to do to raise the money.”

At around 16 minutes, first-responders say the ambulance response time needs to be improved because residents deserve better, however, until taxes are raised to pay for it, the district should dip into its rainy day fund to pay for AMR because lives are at stake.

“I would hate for a loved one to be in a position where they’re on their death bed, and we don’t have anything,” said Sheriland Brown with Reagan VFD.

Local officials including Falls County Judge Jay Elliot and Pct. 2 Commissioner Francis Green said, if the district needs financial help, the board needs to speak up so the county is aware and can try to assist.

Meanwhile, Marlin City Manager Cedric Davis recommended the district apply for grant funding and said he would help brainstorm.

The EMS Director for Limestone Medical Center, Shelton Chapman, also attended the meeting, saying his crews have been strained responding to fill the gaps in Falls County, with which they have a MOU.

The meeting concluded with the ESD 1 board voting in favor of getting a contract in writing from AMR to review while they weigh other options including hiring the district’s former ambulance service, Acadian.

“If there are no real substantial changes (in the AMR contract), we’ll go ahead and probably sign it for at least a year, three if we have to,” said Young.

However, district officials warned, they would be in the red in three years time without additional funding sources.

The decision will have a domino effect: If the ESD 1 doesn’t enter into a contract with AMR, officials say the ambulance service will pull out of it’s soon-to-be-signed contracts with the other two emergency services districts in Falls County.

The ESD 2 and ESD 3 will meet Wednesday at 6 p.m. at the building across from the Rosebud Fire Station.