BERRYVILLE -- The Western Carroll County Ambulance District is facing a tough choice on awarding its five-year ambulance service contract, beginning July 1 of this year, based on bids opened at the county judge's office Friday.
Out of six bid packages mailed out in February, two returned bids: Eureka Springs Fire/EMS (the current contract holder) and Mercy EMS of Springfield, Mo.
Mercy had the lowest initial bid, at $200,000 for the first year, but will require an annual adjustment during the following four years based on the Medical Consumer Price Index. That index was 3 percent between 2010 and 2011, but there is no guarantee inflation will stay that low in the succeeding years.
Eureka Springs' bid is for 90 percent of the WCCAD 2-mill real and personal property tax collections for each year of the contract. This is up from the 85 percent that has been paid for at least 10 years.
WCCAD has used the remaining 15 percent to fund training, equipment and supplies for its volunteer Emergency Medical Responders (EMRs) in the district's four rural fire departments.
WCCAD Chairman John Dolce said collections for 2011 were $261,951.93.
Collections have climbed steadily over the last several years. In 2009, they were $249,703.73 and in 2010, $256,737.58.
WCCAD commissioners have expressed concerns in the past about receiving only 10 percent of collections and being able to furnish equipment, such as replacement Automatic External Defibrillators, to its EMRs.
The two bids contain some other significant differences. Eureka Springs would continue to station its ambulances in the city. Its ambulances often take close to 15 minutes or more to reach outlying areas such as Holiday Island, which has close to 60 percent of the calls in the district, due to its aging population.
Mercy has committed to station one ambulance in Holiday Island and one at the junction of U.S. Hwy. 62 and Ark. Hwy. 23 South in Eureka Springs.
Mercy said it will transport patients, if conscious, to the hospital of their choice, or if not, to the nearest appropriate facility. Eureka Springs said it transports routinely to Eureka Springs Hospital or Mercy Hospital Berryville or the nearest appropriate facility if critically ill or injured, whether conscious or not.
As for airlift services, Mercy said it "auto-launches the nearest helicopter" when necessary and has direct radio contact with all three Mercy Lifeline helicopters, which are located in Springfield, Mo., but their flight dispatchers "also maintain contact with other flight programs in the region."
Eureka Springs said airlift will be to the nearest appropriate facility. It has consistently used the services of Air Evac Lifeteam, whose nearest helicopter bases are in Springdale and Harrison.
Many residents in the Western District have memberships with Air Evac, while Mercy Lifeline does not offer memberships, and does not honor Air Evac memberships.
The WCCAD board will hold a special meeting Wednesday, March 28, at 3 p.m. at Cornerstone Bank in Holiday Island to consider these bids and to decide its next step. The public is welcome to attend the meeting.
Dolce said the commissioner is unlikely to award the contract at that meeting but may schedule meetings with the bidders to ask for clarification.