Benton County sets ambulance service

Posted: November 5, 2017 at 1 a.m.

BENTONVILLE -- Benton County will save about $300,000 on rural ambulance service in 2018.

County officials said they have reached agreement with the seven ambulance service providers, mostly municipal fire departments, that cover the unincorporated areas of the county. The county will pay the providers about $1.8 million this year, and the cost for 2018 is expected to be about $1.5 million.

Rural ambulance service

Benton County has agreements with five cities — Bella Vista, Bentonville, Gravette, Pea Ridge and Siloam Springs — along with the Northeast Benton County Fire Department and Mercy Health System to provide rural ambulance services this year. The ambulance providers will be paid about $1.8 million in 2017.

Source: Staff Report

A partnership between Mercy Emergency Medical Services and the Beaver Lake Fire Department made the savings possible. The responsibility for serving areas east of Rogers will shift from that city's fire department to the partnership.

The Rogers Fire Department has provided ambulance service to the area for many years. It's expected to cost the county $352,000 this year. Mercy is providing ambulance service to the southeastern portion of the county this year at an expected cost of about $466,000. Mercy submitted a proposal to the county to combine the two areas and provide ambulance service for $546,000.

County Judge Barry Moehring said the new partnership could provide the county with a future business model.

"We're excited about that partnership and that prospect," Moehring said. "We're going to pay close attention to next year. This lets the rural fire departments control their own destiny in regards to emergency medical services."

Robert McGowen, the county's emergency services administrator, said the Mercy plan meets the four goals the county had when it sought proposals: have one contract for the area, provide advanced life support service, offer air ambulance service and lower the county's cost. Mercy will have a greater call volume to rely on by combining the service areas so it is able to lower the cost to the county.

Mercy will partner with the Beaver Lake Fire Department to upgrade the ambulance service the department recently started from basic life support to advanced life support. Mercy will provide the first-call air ambulance service to the area.

Chief John Whisenant with the Beaver Lake Fire Department said the transition to the partnership with Mercy has gone well. The department began offering basic life support ambulance service in April.

Whisenant said the department will move its ambulance to an expanded and more centrally located station on Grimes Drive as soon as the vehicle is fully equipped and passes state licensing inspection. He expects that to happen no later than Jan. 1, 2018.

"We anticipate there will be a bump in the road, but so far we haven't encountered it."

A property tax for emergency medical services provided about $875,000 for ambulance service in 2017. A voluntary ambulance millage provided another $257,000, and the county's general fund was tapped for the remaining $672,000. Tom Allen, justice of the peace for District 4 and chairman of the county's Finance Committee, said the county has committed to making ambulance service available to the rural areas, but doesn't determine the costs.

The county negotiates yearly agreements with the providers, and the cost has risen from about $1.2 million in 2015 to $1.8 million in 2017, he said.

"I hope the costs are going to stabilize now," Allen said. "We're not in control of the costs. It's up to those providing the service."

NW News on 11/05/2017