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Texas EMS pushes back on fire-based service

The fire department proposed hiring 15 personnel and five ambulances to take over EMS services and reduce costs

By James Draper
Kilgore News Herald

KILGORE, Texas — Unsurprisingly, a still-developing proposal for Kilgore Fire Department to take over local Emergency Medical Services featured two key figures Tuesday night: KFD Fire Chief Johnny Bellows speaking in favor of the idea and Champion EMS Chief Executive Officer Stan Holden resisting the initiative.

Jointly-owned by Good Shepherd Medical Center and Trinity Mother Frances Hospital, Champion EMS is in year six of a 15-year contract to provide service in Kilgore.

That service, Bellows said, could be undertaken by KFD with 15 personnel and five ambulances (three in constant service, two more for peak times).

“As we would begin looking at this from the fire department standpoint, we’ve tried to condense down and combine manpower that would utilize firefighters from the current service,” Bellows said, with 10 new hires and five firefighters transitioning to ambulances. “We’ve tried to be very conservative on this.”

According to Bellows, estimated costs for year one are $1,852,400, including personnel, vehicles, equipment, supplies, contracts, equipment, fuel and maintenance. Ongoing costs would be about $1.55 million annually.

“We’re looking at the probability of about 3,500 incidents (annually), which includes emergency incidents and transfers,” he explained.

Revenues from those incidents, based on an average $450 payment per transport, are estimated at a minimum $1,575,000 to as much as $2.5 million depending on the chosen collection model.

“We have tried to put forward a reasonable projection. I think it’s easily attainable,” he said. “I am from a fire-based EMS, and I’ve pretty much made it known since I’ve been here that I do prefer fire-based EMS.”

Bellows complimented efforts by Champion EMS, but said emergency medical services run by KFD would involve better quality teamwork and, consequently, improved customer care along with potential revenue for the city.

Holden cautioned council members about the proposal, noting that Champion EMS is heavily-subsidized by its partnering hospitals.

“You’re really delving into the business of healthcare … Good Shepherd and Trinity Mother Frances have to contribute to our bottom line every year in order to break-even,” he noted. That said, “We strive to provide the best pre-hospital emergency care that we can afford, and I would challenge you that you do the research to see just how much you can afford.”

Also, Holden said, KFD’s plan to increase its complement of trained paramedics would incur additional cost.

“Your paramedics are going to cost more than my paramedics are because you’re going to pay for them to be dual-role, cross-trained personnel,” he explained. Likewise, “It’s good to have dual-role, cross-trained personnel ... but you have to be concerned about how much of their time is going to be spent doing fire and how much is going to be spent doing EMS.”

Citing his concerns about the proposal, Holden also asked for feedback on his own setup.

“If there are problems or concerns about Champion and the service we’re providing the city, we’d like to know what they are … There’s no cost to the city of Kilgore today.”

Kilgore Health & Rehabilitation Administrator Glynda Rogers spoke in favor of KFD’s idea, asserting a locally-run EMS would mean a cost-savings for customers, like her residents.

Satisfied with Champion EMS efforts, nevertheless, “What I’m encouraging you to do is to do the numbers,” she told the council. “As far as care goes, all of these guys are doing the same thing … Our services are going to be the same, because all these ambulance services are going to do the best they can do. The bottom line is the dollars.

“Society is judged by how it takes care of its sick and elderly. I think with Obamacare and the way we take care of our children and elderly, we’re not going to be judged well. But in Kilgore, we can do better. I like the fact that a community is caring for itself.”

KFD Assistant Chief Mike Simmons said the proposal benefits the city’s emergency services as a whole.

“Self-sufficiency is a big thing,” he said. “This enhances our services tremendously and enhances our capability to do that … Essentially, the plan allows us to add those additional resources to the streets of Kilgore for the citizens and essentially pays for itself.”

Kilgore resident John Kulak praised Champion EMS for the service they’ve provided to his father and his mother-in-law.

“If it wouldn’t have been for those guys ... they might not be here,” he said. Likewise, he cautioned the council members about adding another set of tasks to firefighters’ plates. Agreeing with Simmons’ contention they’re public servants, “I just think that you’ve been stretched.”

As a workshop topic, council members took no action on Tuesday’s proposal.

“I think this is a good start on this,” council member Lori Weatherford said. “It’s not something we have to do right away, but it’s a good something to look at.”


©2014 the Kilgore News Herald (Kilgore, Texas)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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