Ill. city, hospital system looks for new EMS agency

HSHS St. Mary's, which owns Decatur Ambulance Service, plans to close it on Sept. 1


Brenden Moore
Herald & Review, Decatur, Ill.

DECATUR, Ill. — Efforts are underway to find another emergency medical transport provider after Hospital Sisters Health System confirmed Monday that it would close Decatur Ambulance Service as of Sept. 1.

Founded in 1959 and purchased by HSHS St. Mary's in 2018, Decatur Ambulance Service has long been the sole provider of ambulance services in the city. It also serves Pana and Shelbyville.

"I think long story short, HSHS has been losing money under Decatur Ambulance Service," said Deputy City Manager Jon Kindseth. "And I think that they've just kind of finally come to the end of the line to say that we can't continue to run the ambulance service and take a loss year after year." (Photo/HSHS St. Mary's Hospital Decatur)

The hospital said it was working with city officials to secure another vendor to serve the community before the closure. Spokeswoman Jennifer Snopko said factors that drove the decision included the difficulty of finding qualified candidates for open positions and the cost of equipment and vehicles.

"This decision was weighed heavily, as we have been proud and privileged to serve the residents of Decatur, Pana and surrounding communities," Snopko said in an emailed statement. "We are dedicated to ensuring that the community continues to have access to emergency care delivered at a high level."

It was not immediately clear how many employees would be affected, and a Decatur Ambulance Service representative could not immediately be reached for comment Monday. As of February 2020, the company had a fleet of 19 ambulances staffed by 24 emergency medical technicians and 50 paramedics.

Deputy City Manager Jon Kindseth said city leaders were aware of the impending closure.

"I think long story short, HSHS has been losing money under Decatur Ambulance Service," Kindseth said. "And I think that they've just kind of finally come to the end of the line to say that we can't continue to run the ambulance service and take a loss year after year."

Kindseth said city officials have been working with HSHS and Memorial Health to find a replacement service to serve Decatur. This may come in the form of a request for proposal, though the city's only formal role is to issue licenses for ambulance companies to operate within city limits.

"Our goal would be to try to get as many respondents to the solicitation for proposals," Kindseth said. "Competition is always a good thing. Whether it ends up being one one company or multiple companies ultimately getting licensed, we'll have to wait and see how those responses come back."

State law requires large employers to give 60 days advance notice before mass layoffs. Despite the Sept. 1 termination notice, Kindseth said that HSHS has committed to keep the ambulance service around until there's a transition to a new provider.

The closure comes four years after a competing ambulance company fell one vote short of being licensed by the Decatur City Council. Champaign-based Arrow Ambulance, which was being backed by Decatur Memorial Hospital, had sought to become the city's second licensed provider.

St. Mary's and Decatur Ambulance Service leaders fought the move, arguing that the city did not need additional emergency transport, and that introducing another company would hurt the current business and put paramedics out of work.

Decatur Ambulance Service leaders and employees also expressed serious concerns in 2015 when city officials considered the possibility of operating their own ambulance through the fire department.

Nationally, emergency medical transportation providers have been having issues for years. The National Rural Health Association found in 2018 that a third of rural emergency medical services were struggling with inadequate funding.

Decatur Mayor Julie Moore Wolfe, who is the executive director of philanthropy, advocacy and community relations at HSHS St. Mary's, declined comment, citing a conflict of interest given her job.

Valerie Wells contributed to this story.

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McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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