Marion to phase out ambulance services
City will rely on private companies to meet residents’ needs
Marion Fire Department will not renew its ambulance certification in April when it expires and plans to phase the service out.
Fire Chief Woody Wheeless discussed the idea of discontinuing the service with the city council and received their permission to start winding down the operation.
“Back in November during the budget meetings, I brought up the possibility of doing away with the ambulance service,” Wheeless said. “The way things are today, cities don’t need to be in the ambulance business.”
The Fire Department has three ambulances and the service costs the city about $80,000 a year to operate.
Wheeless said there are three private ambulance services in Crittenden County and those companies provide better service to residents in Marion than the fire department can provide.
“To me, the citizens are getting a better service today,” Wheeless said. “So our citizens are being taken care off.”
Wheeless said Marion Fire Department operates the only basic ambulance unit in all of eastern Arkansas.
“There aren’t any others other than us,” Wheeless said. “And even if we go on a run and it requires a higher level of service, we’re having to contact one of the private services anyway.”
Wheeless said the training requirements have also gone up. Each ambulance is required by law to have two EMTs – both the driver and the person in the back have to be EMTs.
“That’s almost impossible for us to make happen,” Wheeless said.
Also, Wheeless said it is hard for him to get his certified EMTs to take an ambulance call because of the long wait times at the hospital which can run as high as six hours.
“The majority of them don’t want to take that call because they have other jobs,” Wheeless said.
Wheeless said currently the fire department is still running first responder calls to start patient care until an ambulance arrives and assisting, but is not taking any transport calls.
Mayor Frank Fogleman asked Wheeless what they need to do in order to shut the service down.
“Do we have to notify any agency or area emergency rooms?” Fogleman said.
According to Wheeless, all they need to do is notify the Health Department.
“We have to let them know what our intentions are,” Wheeless said. “And they are aware of it. We’ve had two or three conversations about it.”
Councilman Cliff Wood asked Wheeless what he would like to do with the ambulances.
Wheeless said he would like to sell the three ambulances.
“We won’t have a problem selling them,” Wheeless said. “All three of the private services are bugging me every day wanting to know if we’ve got one for sale. They want to buy them.”
The ambulances are fairly new — 2006, 2008, And 2013. All three are Fords.
Fogleman asked whether Wheeless knew if any other fire departments were looking to buy an ambulance.
“Is there a chance Marked Tree or Forrest City might be willing to pay us for our ambulances?” Fogleman said.
Wheeless said those fire departments only do first responder calls and don’t transport patients.
“So they wouldn’t have a need for an ambulance,” Wheeless said.
Fogleman also asked Wheeless whether he thought the fire department would want to keep one ambulance.
“Is there any merit in keeping a unit just to go to a fire call?” Fogleman said.
Wheeless said at one time they were getting 750 ambulance calls a year. Today they only get 10 to 20 calls a month for ambulance service.
“Most fire departments today the trend is to get out of the ambulance business, and let the private sector do it,” Wheeless said.
Wheeless said from an economic standpoint that there is no guarantee they will even get paid for an ambulance run because the insurance companies set the rates.
“We May bill $500 and might get $250 from the insurance company,” Wheeless said. “The insurance companies are really putting a hurt on ambulance services. And the advantage that a private ambulance service has over us as far as making money is they can transport a dialysis patient that is guaranteed money.
But a 911 call even a private insurance company will tell you there is no guarantee you will get paid for it.”
Councilman Kelly O’Neal asked Wheeless if he planned to sell the vehicles using an online auction site. “Would we put our ambulances on govdeals.com?”
Wheeless said he would like to get them appraised first.
“I’d like to get somebody to tell us what they are worth,” Wheeless said.
By Mark Randall