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Texas city, county join forces for rural ambulance service

The City of Palmview will pay the county $10 a month for the use of the ambulance, which will be added to three already in the city’s inventory


Photo/Skyline EMS

By Dina Arévalo
The Monitor, McAllen, Texas

PALMVIEW, Texas — Hidalgo County officials have joined forces with the city of Palmview to provide rural ambulance service to portions of the county’s Precinct 3.

County officials approved of the interlocal agreement with Palmview during a commissioners’ court meeting on Tuesday afternoon. The Palmview City Council was expected to approve the agreement during a special city council meeting on Wednesday.

It’s a deal months in the making, according to Palmview City Manager Michael Leo .

“We’ve been in discussions with Hidalgo County for a couple of months now,” Leo said, adding that the small town he oversees is one of the few in the region that offers city-owned ambulance services.

According to the terms of the interlocal agreement, Palmview will pay the county $10 a month for the use of the ambulance, which will be added to three already in the city’s inventory.

The ambulance will come fully equipped, but Palmview will be responsible for staffing it, maintaining and operating it, the city manager said.

Palmview’s existing roster of cross trained firefighter paramedics will staff the ambulance, which will be used to respond to calls in certain rural portions of Precinct 3 near the city.

"(We) are able to provide ambulance services in some rural areas near our city limits. It’s called the Palmview Fire District ,” Leo said.

“So, what this interlocal proposes is we provide these ambulance services in these unincorporated county rural areas that are within our fire district, and in return, Hidalgo County will provide us with an ambulance,” he added.

For Hidalgo County Precinct 3 Commissioner Everardo “Ever” Villarreal , the agreement is a win-win in that it will help alleviate the problems left behind after Pharr EMS pulled out of its contract to provide rural EMS services last year.

“It would be a dual purpose to help the residents of Palmview and, at the same time, help my rural area. And by doing that, it would save us money on not having to pay Skyline more money on things like that,” Villarreal said.

The county commissioner was referring to a contract that county officials assembled last year with private ambulance company, Skyline EMS, of Mission, to provide ambulance services in the rural western and Delta parts of the county.

Those regions had previously been serviced by Hidalgo County EMS, a private for-profit company that declared bankruptcy in 2019.

As the bankruptcy began to wind down in 2021, the city of Pharr purchased the company’s assets, which included nearly a hundred ambulances, air ambulances and service contracts. That included contracts to serve rural Hidalgo County residents.

However, last fall, Pharr notified county officials that it was severing those contracts due to skyrocketing costs. At the time, Pharr had been providing rural EMS service at no cost to the county.

“Before, when costs were stable, the precinct would always get the services for free,” Villarreal said. “The ambulance industry has gone through some challenges and how they can’t afford to do it at no cost.”

Last November, county officials inked a one-year contract with Skyline EMS to fill the coverage gaps Pharr EMS’s departure left behind in Precinct 1 and 3.

In addition to approving the interlocal agreement with Palmview on Tuesday, county commissioners also approved a one-year extension to the Skyline EMS contract.

The county has two more ambulances available for use once additional interlocal agreements can be reached with other entities, Villarreal said.

So far, the county has explored potentially placing them in La Joya and Precinct 1, where the cities of Elsa , Edcouch and La Villa lie far from the nearest hospital.

Hidalgo County approved the purchase of the three ambulances for just over $887,000 in January, according to meeting records.

At the same time, commissioners also approved the purchase of five 2023 Chevy Silverado pickup trucks to serve as “quick response emergency units,” equipped with “basic life support” medical supplies for just over $426,000.


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