The Hamburg City Council unanimously voted Monday to contract the city’s medical emergency response services with ProMed Ambulance of El Dorado.
The vote is the conclusion of a 19-month effort to find a long-term solution for ambulance service in Hamburg and the surrounding areas.
ProMed was chosen after the city sought bids for ambulance service, a move that followed a Sept. 11 vote by residents that overwhelmingly approved a 1-cent sales tax to subsidize an ambulance service.
Because local officials and ambulance service companies alike have contended that ambulance services cannot stay open in eastern Ashley County without a subsidy, in addition to being able to meet the city’s level-of-service criteria, consideration of which bidder asked for the lowest subsidy were a key part of the consideration.
ProMed’s bid of asking for $282,996 — or $23,583 monthly — to cover the city and the surrounding area was lowest.
One other company — LifeNet, Inc. — submitted a bid. LifeNet asked for $25,583 a month, or $306,996 annually.
The company currently working in the area, FAST Ambulance Service, did not submit a bid.
Hamburg Mayor Dane Weindorf, however, submitted a proposal based on what he believed the service would cost the city. Weindorf’s estimate was that the city needed $26,793 a month, or $321,516 a year, to operate the service.
Weindorf said that while the bid solicitation asked for one Advanced Life Support (ALS) ambulance with a backup on duty within 15 minutes at minimum, ProMed’s bid was for two ALS ambulances stationed at the Hamburg Fire Department 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
A committee of council members Mike Sanderlin, Deane Murphy and Daniel Shelton and residents David Harrod, Janice Rucker reviewed the bids before voting 4-1 to recommend ProMed to the full council.
Rucker was the dissenting vote at the committee meeting, and at Monday’s council meeting she voiced her continued opposition to awarding the bid to ProMed.
“The citizens, they voted (for the Sept. 11 ballot measure) only because they thought the city was going to take it,” Rucker said. “That is why they came out and voted, because they wanted it to be you.”
Resident Timikia Smith said she wanted to use the vote to maintain the status quo with FAST in some way, saying that she’d had a number of opportunities to interact with FAST and had been shown a respectful, professional attitude.
“Quite a few of us were under impression that we were going to keep the same ambulance service we had, so when it came to the ballot, that is why i checked ‘yes,’” Smith said. “I don’t undrstand why would we choose a company that was not in-house. It is always said, ‘Support the businesses in Hamburg.’ Why would we choose an ambulance service from El Dorado when we already have an ambulance service in Hamburg?”
Resident Rachel Rucker said she felt like the city misrepresented the vote, and that if the city did not start the service, it would be FAST.
“It really hurts me to the heart,” she said. “Now, if you need something passed, you cannot count on (the) community because it was false advertising.”
Weindorf said the city’s promises were not that specific.
“We promised two things, that we would start an ambulance service with (the tax) or subsidize a service with it,” he said. “We did not promise we would start a Hamburg ambulance service.”
Other members of the audience expressed concern that ProMed might take ambulances out of service in Hamburg to support its operations in neighboring counties.
“The bid specified that there be at the very minimum an ALS truck on duty at all times, and a second on duty within 15 minutes of the first ALS truck being called out,” City Attorney Paul Keith said. “Rather than doing that, I guess because of the distance to their other stations, they will be here at all times.
“They will have a contractual obligation to meet that. if they are not meeting their obligation, the city will have the right to procure a substitute service at their expense. The bid documents required the bidder to produce a letter of credit in the amount of the annual subsidy, which gives the city the opportunity of another way of recourse, a guarantee.”
Murphy said the committee did its due diligence, and that she had spoken to references for ProMed. Murphy ultimately made the motion to contract with ProMed, which Sanderlin seconded. Every council member voted for it.
After the vote, a departing audience member told the council, “That is so wrong, I am gone.”
ProMed owner Ken Kelley, an Ashley County native, spoke to the audience following the vote, telling those who remained that he heard their concerns.
Kelley said he wants to work with the providers already in Ashley County, and that he brings 35 years experience in the ambulance business.
“We have an opportunity here to share in my knowledge and resources,” he said. “Working with this team here, you will have the best team in south Arkansas, in Arkansas. We will work together to make sure this is done right, that it is done sustainably and that it is done right in the future.”
Since June 2017, officials at the county and city levels have discussed what to do about ambulance service in the eastern end of Ashley County. FAST’s owners said they would have gone out of business had they not entered into a service agreement with Ashley County Medical Center prior to June 1, 2017. The agreement allowed the hospital to help the ambulance company cover whatever gap was needed to break even each month.
After several reviews and renewals — and after discussion of numerous alternative proposals for ambulance service at the county level — the hospital ended the service agreement. Shortly before the agreement ran out, however, Hamburg signed a $10,000 a month contract with FAST that runs through March.
When voters went to the polls in September, they had an option of choosing “for” or “against” a ballot that read,”Adoption of a one percent local sales and use tax within the City of Hamburg, Arkansas, the net collections of which after deduction of the administrative charges of the State of Arkansas and required rebates, to be used by the City for one or more of the following: (a) fund the operating expenses of an ambulance service to be operated by or on behalf of the City; (b) fund the City’s contribution to the ambulance services operations of an emergency medical healthcare facilities board under the Public Facilities Board Act; (c) fund the City’s contribution to provision of emergency medical services to its residents and the residents of Ashley County, surrounding counties, and municipalities within those counties, but only if the governing bodies of such counties and municipalities request, authorize and contract with the City for the provision of such services under applicable Arkansas law; (d) fund the acquisition of equipment and capital improvements for the operation of an ambulance services operated by or on behalf of the City, and (e) fund the City’s obligation under contracts for other entities to provide ambulance services to or for the benefit of residents of the City and surrounding areas.”