By Reggie Ellis @Reggie_SGN
EXETER – A plan to bring ambulance service to Woodlake and Three Rivers finally gained some traction last month.
At a June 3 meeting, the Exeter District Ambulance (EDA) board of directors received a promising update from District Manager Peter Sodhy. He told board members that the Ambulance Provider’s Association of Tulare County (APATC), a collection of nine ambulance companies operating in the county, has voted to send a letter of support for Sodhy’s plan to post resident paramedics in Three Rivers. The plan is to create a situation for the community to be able to attract EMTs willing to become paramedics and who would relocate to the foothill community if they had free or discounted room and board. Long term, Sodhy said he hopes to set up a system to recruit and retain resident paramedics.
The only problem with the plan was the requirement that the ambulance arrive within 10 minutes of being dispatched. Sodhy said if the clock could start from the time the paramedic started the ambulance instead of dispatch, an on-call paramedic system could work in the winding hills of Three Rivers.
The letter was sent to the Central California Emergency Medical Services Agency (CCEMSA), which oversees ambulance providers in Tulare, Kings, Fresno and Madera counties.
“This is the piece that has been missing,” Sodhy wrote in his report. “We should see a formal policy adjustment from CCEMSA in July. That piece should then allow us to begin tangible action on the plan with a goal of starting the service within a month or so of that date.”
Covering Three Rivers is the key to providing a full-time ambulance in Woodlake. EDA currently operates three ambulances each day. One rig posts 24 hours per day in Exeter, another splits time between Exeter and Farmersville and the third rig spends half the week in Lemon Cove, splitting the week with American Ambulance of Visalia, and the other half in Lindsay, where it splits time with Imperial Ambulance of Porterville. In order to cover Woodlake, EDA has to relocate its part-time ambulance in Lemon Cove to a full-time ambulance in Woodlake. By operating a fourth ambulance in Three Rivers, EDA can provide service to Woodlake without leaving a void in the area east of Exeter. Once CCEMSA approves the plan for Three Rivers, APATC is expected to send a letter of support for a Woodlake post to CCEMSA.
The letter and CCEMSA approval is the only thing holding up providing ambulance service to Woodlake. EDA already has a signed memorandum of understanding with the Woodlake Fire District to lease a building for an ambulance station and with the City of Woodlake to provide ambulance service within the city limits.
In exchange for ambulance service, the City agrees to work with the public ambulance company to look into the potential annexation of the Woodlake city limits into the boundaries of the Exeter District Ambulance. This would add additional property tax revenue to the tax-funded ambulance district, which falls under the guidelines of a hospital district. Woodlake is not currently covered by a hospital district, leaving the door open to make Woodlake a permanent part of the ambulance district’s boundaries.
“That was an important part of the agreement,” Lara said. “The MOU allows us to look into that.”
The fire district board also approved leasing an auxiliary building to Exeter District Ambulance to use as an ambulance post. Approved by the Exeter District Ambulance board at its Nov. 26 meeting, the lease is for a building located at 120 N. Magnolia St. between the fire station and the museum behind Miller Brown Park. The monthly fee would be $750 per month for the first two years and then increase $50 per month per year for the remaining three years of the five-year lease.
The 1,320 square foot building is currently occupied by Ballet Folklórico del Lago, whose lease ended on June 30. WFD has already agreed to invest up to $30,000 to make improvements to the building, such as adding a small kitchen, creating a bedroom and a living room area for crews to stay while they are on-call.