Response times at center of ambulance board talks

Friday, November 25, 2011

HOLIDAY ISLAND -- As the new year approaches, the Western Carroll County Ambulance District (WCCAD) is preparing to write a bid package for the contract for ambulance service.

Currently the five-year contract is held by the City of Eureka Springs until June 30.

Attorney Matt Bishop prepared a letter instructing the board on the bid process at its meeting Nov. 15.

He advised the board to consider the term of the agreement, whether there will be automatic renewals, penalties for default, indemnification and insurance requirements.

"Ideally, you want it completed by the end of May," he said.

The board discussed changing the contract requirement for the ambulance to reach a call within 15 minutes.

"Road conditions are different and populating densities are different from when it was first set up," said Chairman John Dolce.

Emergency Medical Responder (EMR) Tom Freehling said it takes 25 minutes to reach the Buck Mountain area, off Ark. Hwy. 23 South.

"What we're asking is whether 15 minutes is still reasonable," said Commissioner Chuck Olson, himself an EMR in the Grassy Knob area. "People are living farther out in the county."

In the last five years, he said, a new development, Timberridge, has come in off Ark. Hwy. 23 South.

The 55-lot development takes 20 minutes to reach from Eureka Springs, according to its own website.

In the last few years, "variant" response times (longer than 15 minutes) have increased to some of the outlying areas, like Holiday Island and Grassy Knob, mostly due to distance, according to the Eureka Springs Fire Department monthly reports to WCCAD.

The issue of whether another service provider can keep ambulances on call and do a better job of reaching patients in a timely manner has come up in the past when the contract has been up for renewal.

No provider other than Eureka Springs, with its location central to the Western District, has been able to promise compliance with the needs and specifications for ambulance service.

Yet the issue of timely response and whether residents are well served will continue to be discussed in light of the new contract, commissioners noted.

"How are (Western District) residents best served?" asked Commissioner Joe McClung, Jr. "Through the EMR system, so these first responders get to people before the ambulance can get there."

Eureka Springs is looking into getting its own system for filling oxygen cylinders, said Fire Chief Rhys Williams.

"It would be in the best interest of all if we could get the equipment to fill our own bottles for everyone," he said.

He said he saw one cost of $14,000 for the unit, and he is looking into getting grant money to help fund it.

Williams said bottles would be filled at Eureka at no charge to the rural departments.

In other business, WCCAD:

* Approved treasurer's reports through Nov. 15. The district has a total of $300,782.43. Of that, $206,859.66 is in certificates-of-deposit.

* Approved $2,000 for the purchase of a steep-terrain patient retrieval system for Inspiration Point. Volunteers will be getting training in its use.

* Approved holding a special meeting in December to sign the contract payment check to Eureka Springs.

* Approved requests for payment from the volunteer departments.

* Heard the ambulance performance reports for September and October. Over the two months, there were a total of 118 calls: 72 in Holiday Island; 13 each in Inspiration Point and on U.S. Hwy. 62 East; 11 on Ark. Hwy. 23 South; six in Grassy Knob; two on U.S. Hwy. 62 West; and one on Ark. Hwy. 23 North. There were 19 variance calls, 11 due to distance.

The board's next regular meeting will be held Jan. 17, 2012, at 4 p.m. at the Grassy Knob fire station. The public is welcome to attend.

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