Providers pump brakes on ambulance plan

Ambulance Provider Association say they support concept of Three Rivers paramedic, but not as it is currently proposed

By Reggie Ellis @Reggie_SGN

EXETER – Ambulance providers in Tulare County are in favor of a plan to bring ambulance service to Woodlake and Three Rivers, but not as it is currently proposed.

In a June 18 letter, the Ambulance Provider Association of Tulare County (APATC), a collection of nine ambulance companies, stated they agreed to “support the concept” of providing an ambulance in Three Rivers. The providers clarified they are not in support of every aspect of the plan proposed by Peter Sodhy, district manager of the Exeter District Ambulance.

Sodhy’s 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 and provide them with a modified vehicle to provide advanced life support until a full scale ambulance can arrive to transport patients to a nearby hospital.

The only problem with the plan was the requirement that the ambulance arrive within 10 minutes of being dispatched. Currently the closest ambulance responding to calls in Three Rivers is in Lemon Cove, but Exeter is considering shifting that ambulance to a station in Woodlake. This would add more minutes to the response time in Three Rivers. Under Sodhy’s plan, the additional time would be less crucial because a resident paramedic would be responding at the same time from within the gateway community. The ambulance dispatched from Woodlake would not provide advanced life support but rather serve as a transport to the hospital. Sodhy said if the time limit for the transport ambulance to arrive on scene could be extended, an on-call paramedic system could work in the winding hills of Three Rivers.

In its letter to the Central California Emergency Medical Services Agency (CCEMSA), which oversees ambulance providers in Tulare, Kings, Fresno and Madera counties, APATC President Paul Main wrote that the providers agreed to the concept of “an extension of time for the transport ambulance responding in conjunction with a single-staffed.”

“To further clarify, the APATC is not approving the overall plan in its current form. Rather, the board is supporting the need to address response time compliance for the affected response zone(s), while Exeter District Ambulance works to develop a comprehensive service plan,” wrote Main, who is also the manager for American Ambulance in Visalia.

Sodhy said CCEMSA’s compliance committee is scheduled to take up the plan’s time extension at its meeting today, July 24.

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.

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.

Start typing and press Enter to search