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Ill. ambulance service threatens to pull out of city over proposed fine ordinance, second service

“We will move out of Jacksonville,” LifeStar Ambulance Service President Roger D. Campbell said during a Municipal Ambulance Commission meeting


LifeStar Ambulance Service/Facebook

By Dave Dawson
Jacksonville Journal-Courier

JACKSONVILLE, Ill. — A move to bring a second ambulance service into Jacksonville hit a roadblock Thursday after one of the companies strenuously objected to a proposed ordinance that called for a structure of fines for failure to provide prescribed coverage.

“If the City Council passes the ordinance as presented today, I guarantee you I will not seek to relicense on Jan. 1, 2025,” said Roger D. Campbell, president of LifeStar Ambulance Service in Centralia. “We will move out of Jacksonville.”

Campbell’s response was sparked by the presentation of a proposed ordinance during a meeting of the Municipal Ambulance Commission that would govern how two ambulance services could operate in the city.

Phil McCarty, director of Jacksonville-Morgan County Emergency Management, presented the ordinance after the City Council directed the commission to figure out an agreement that would serve the city as well as current ambulance provider LifeStar and prospective licensee ECHO Response EMS.

After nearly 90 minutes of discussion, it was decided the two companies would list their objections to the proposed ordinance so McCarty and City Attorney Dan Beard can compile a document fair to both companies.

“We just want to have accountability in this ordinance that is lacking in the present ordinance,” McCarty said.

The situation began in September when McCarty said a shortage of EMTs meant the ambulance service in the city of Jacksonville was unable to operate with the required number of crews 98% of the time.

Under its agreement with the city, LifeStar is required to have three fully staffed ambulances on duty around the clock. From Jan. 1, 2023, until the beginning of 2024, LifeStar met the city ordinance 2% of the time and 80% of the time had only two units available, McCarty said.

Since then, LifeStar has beefed up its presence in Jacksonville, adding bays to its building at 524 S. Main St., buying an additional ambulance, and hiring more employees. Campbell said the necessary coverage under the current ordinance is now being provided most of the time.

In February, Pana-based ECHO said it was interested in providing emergency ambulance service because it already had a presence in the city.

Based in the 948 N. Main St. building that formerly housed American Ambulance Service, ECHO has been handling patient transfers for Jacksonville Memorial Hospital since mid-2023. Owner Danny Kloever said ECHO would be able to provide a second ambulance for emergency service.

Because of that interest from ECHO, the council directed the ambulance commission to figure out how two ambulance services could work together and then forward a recommendation to the council.

The commission was prepared to make a recommendation Thursday but hit two snags. One, the commission lacked a quorum and, two, the ordinance made neither company entirely happy.

McCarty presented the ordinance and said he had received input from LifeStar and ECHO. The ordinance spelled out how two providers could provide four ambulances for emergency services. There would be fines assessed if either provider failed to hold up its end of the contract.

The fine structure gave two days’ grace each month, but fines started at $200 per day for three to five days below standard and topped at $700 for each day not fully staffed after 11 days.

The proposal included an annual fee of $1,500 per agency for three advanced life support ambulances and 25 staff members. Ambulances and staff members over the limit would be assessed an additional fee so the companies would have no incentive to pad their numbers.

There would also be a fine of $500 per day if either company pulled out of Jacksonville without providing 90 days’ notice. American Ambulance left Jacksonville in April 2018 because it didn’t have enough paramedics to meet the required staffing levels. American’s departure left LifeStar as the city’s only ambulance service. Campbell told the commission that LifeStar stepped up after American left with no assessed penalties. He said they had a job fair and brought more ambulances in to serve the city.

American wasn’t fined because the ordinance was so vague, McCarty said, which is why the city wants to call for more accountability within the new ordinance.

“COVID changed everything with staffing. People do not want to be EMTs. Every agency is understaffed. This is not a Jacksonville problem. It is a problem everywhere,” Campbell said.

“And if I had known I was going to be here today talking about fines, I wouldn’t have spent $500,000 on our expansion here. We are almost back to three crews on duty around the clock. We’ve been here a long time,” Campbell said.

Campbell also objected to the plan because it called for LifeStar to have three emergency crews and ECHO to have one emergency crew on duty around the clock.

“Jacksonville is not a four-ambulance town and that’s a problem for the business. It’s not like we can advertise to attract more business,” Campbell said.

“If four ambulances are too many, then how could three crews be provided with two ambulance services? We need a way to make calls equal and fair. Everyone at this table wants to take care of the person who need help,” McCarty said.

“If we go down to two crews, then we probably are looking at laying off some people. People we hired in Jacksonville generally want to stay in Jacksonville and don’t want to move somewhere else,” Campbell said.

McCarty noted the city approved spending $30,000 for its share of a study of ambulance service in Jacksonville and Morgan County. The county board approved spending $30,000 for the study, which is expected to take 180 days to complete.

“This ordinance might just be a step before we end up with a new recommendation,” McCarty said.

“We need to go back and revise the ordinance before we talk about it anymore,” Beard said as the conversation continued to circle at the end of the meeting.

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