Southern, ECCAC sign 2-year deal

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

After nearly three years of discussion and debate, eastern Carroll County has a contract for the provision of emergency ambulance service.

Representatives of Southern Paramedic Service Inc. and the Eastern Carroll County Ambulance Commission signed a two-year contract on Friday, Dec. 15. The agreement will take effect on Jan. 1 and includes a mutual option for a three-year extension.

Southern’s chief executive officer, Gary Padget, signed the contract along with commissioners. The signing capped a lengthy process for the five-member commission, which was appointed in January after voters in the eastern portion of the county approved the creation of the Eastern Carroll County Ambulance District in the November 2016 general election. Voters also approved a 2.5-mill tax to fund the district’s operation.

The commission met 23 times in 2017, working to obtain interlocal agreements with cities in the eastern district, draft a request for proposals, then evaluate the proposals and award the contract. After Southern was awarded the contract on Nov. 8, the commission turned its attention to drafting and reviewing the contract, leading to Friday’s signing.

Southern submitted a bid of $395,000 to provide two ambulances around the clock in the portion of the county east of the Kings River. Three other ambulance service providers — Mercy, North Arkansas Regional Medical Center and Pafford EMS — also submitted bids.

Emergency ambulance service became a topic of discussion for the Carroll County Quorum Court in January 2015, shortly after County Judge Sam Barr authorized Ozark EMS to begin accepting emergency calls on an alternating basis with ambulances from Mercy Berryville, which had operated exclusively in eastern Carroll County.

Barr’s move followed a December 2014 meeting with Mercy officials, who said the local ambulance operation had suffered $2.1 million in losses over a six-year period, including more than $500,000 in 2014.

Former Justice of the Peace John Reeve spearheaded the effort to create the ambulance district, arguing that residents in the eastern half of the county could be left without ambulance service at any time without the security of a contract.

Mercy stopped providing emergency ambulance service in the county in March 2015, leaving Ozark as the exclusive provider. Ozark co-owner Leon Cheatham said repeatedly that his company would continue to operate in eastern Carroll County, even if voters rejected the proposed millage.

In mid-May 2017, however, Cheatham informed Barr that Ozark would stop its service in Carroll County. After a proposed sale to Pafford fell through, Ozark officially ended its service on the evening of Memorial Day, May 29. At a special called ECCAC meeting, Cheatham said Ozark EMS had lost $40,000 to $50,000 and would need an additional $120,000 to finish the year. He appealed to the commission for funding, with no success.

At the May 29 meeting, Mercy agreed to handle emergency calls, with assistance from Eureka Springs Fire & EMS and NARMC. Commissioners said they would also seek assistance through mutual aid agreements with services from neighboring counties.

In June 2017, Green Forest Mayor Charlie Reece hired Southern Paramedic Service to handle emergency calls inside the city limits. Southern also assisted with calls outside the city limits.

At last Friday’s meeting, the commission agree to issue its first quarterly payment of $98,750 to Southern on Jan. 11. With a contract in place, the commission will holds its regular meetings on a quarterly basis. The next regular meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Monday, Feb. 19, at the South Carroll County Fire Department, located at 11500 Highway 103 South.

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