Exclusive ambulance contract to be considered by city - The Mena Star: News

Exclusive ambulance contract to be considered by city

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Posted: Friday, November 6, 2015 8:42 pm

The Mena City Council will decide if they will move forward with a request granting exclusive rights to a single ambulance service in the city on Tuesday night, which, if enacted, would cost several local workers their jobs and possibly close the doors of a Mena business.

SouthWest EMS Owner Robby Hines said he asked the mayor and  city council to look into adopting an exclusive city contract because he doesn't believe there is enough business in the city for two ambulance services.

A resolution to task the Health and Safety Committe, headed by Mary Alice Head, with exploring whether the council would be interested in opening bids for an ambulance service contract will be voted on during the council meeting at 6 p.m. at City Hall.

Should the resolution pass, the committee, which consists of the entire council, will meet and decide if the city should grant an exclusive contract to an ambulance service. A public hearing would be held for public comment, a call for qualifications open to any ambulance service would be published in local media outlets, an ordinance passed and service contracted. Any other Mena ambulance service would no longer be allowed to operate within the city.

"Two services competing for a small amount of business puts the businesses in a  hard position to provide services," Hines said. "It's created confusion in emergency healthcare. People don't know who to call and it has put us in a precarious position. "

SouthWest EMS currently holds the county E-911 contract and are the ambulance service dispatched when residents call the emergency line. They are the sole provider for the county and hold exclusive contracts with the cities of Van Buren, Alma and Crawford County.

Competitor Liberty EMS Owner Terry Freeman said he thinks there is plenty of business in Mena to go around and that he believes the city is benefitting from having multiple options.

"I think the ultimate motivation behind this is to put us out of business," Freeman said. "Competition should make the level of service get better. Service is never going to be as good in a monopoly as one in a free market."

Freeman said he thinks there is plenty of business for both ambulance services in the city, as evidenced by their being in business for two years.

"Since Liberty came into being the wait times for interfacility transfers is almost zero," he claimed in a Friday interview. "The wait time was hours sometimes before. Any ER doctor will tell you that we are indespensible. It's more options and more resources for the patients."

Southwest opened in 2002 and has more than 30 full-time employees and three ambulances in the Mena area. Liberty employees nine full-time employees and has five ambulances.

Freeman said they would apply for and accept an exclusive contract for the city "if the opportunity arose,"  but also said "we believe in choices for the city."

Should SouthWest be granted an exclusive contract, Freeman said that would be it for them.

"That would be the stake through our heart pretty much," he said... "We're not trying to pick any kind of fight. We're not going to fight back."

Mayor George McKee said he wasn't willing to publically support or oppose the issue at this time, but said he believes competition is generally good for cities.

The meeting starts at 6 p.m. at City Hall on Tuesday night.

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