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CareFlite contract has officials, firemen at odds

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The Ellis County Press

WAXAHACHIE - After years of using East Texas EMS services, Ellis County commissioners approved a new contract last week with CareFlite to cover emergency ambulatory situations.

Automatic helicopter launch provisions are expected to help reduce response times, according to county commissioners.

Nearly every vote in the commissioners’ court meeting held on Monday, Aug. 4, approved the contract. Precinct 1 Commissioner Dennis Robinson, R-Palmer, and Precinct 3 Commissioner Heath Sims, R-Waxahachie, helped spearhead the new agreement, which is meant to help reach rural areas more easily.

"In my recommendation, we’ve found things that will improve our service," Sims said.

"We will have two more trucks in the county- one in Italy and one working from the Palmer area- which is going to help our rural areas immensely."

Only one voice rejected the proposal: Precinct 2 Commissioner Bill Dodson, R-Ennis, said he was concerned about the eastern part of the county.

"I’ve been up to CareFlite and have been very impressed with their services," Dodson said.

"However, I voted against it because I had not been shown the contract."

Currently, the plan hopes to maintain response times around 21 minutes for rural locations and 30 minutes for remote rural areas.

Yet while it may save some time in those areas, if a call goes out to a place adjoining an ambulance service, it would extend response times.

Other concerns include cost and business with other ambulatory services.

"I’m concerned about the cost of deploying helicopters," Dodson said, who was elected in 2006.

"Individuals picked up by CareFlite who are not on their insurance plan could probably pay as much as $10,000 for the call."

Companies like Air Evac Lifeteam and PHI also serve the county.

Air Evac charges $49 yearly for individual memberships, $55 for a couple and $60 for a family plan, but mainly serves a 150-mile radius around Air Evac "bases."

"You do not have to [be a member] to use Air Evac Lifeteam’s services, but membership can save the patient a great deal of money," said Julie Heavrin, the Air Evac Lifeteam’s public relations director.

Honoring existing memberships

"We hope that CareFlite will honor the agreements we have with our customers, who have subscribed to our services," said Air Evac’s program director for the Ennis office, Rickey Reed. "In the past, we’ve worked together for years very well."

Ellis County’s current contract for ambulatory services is set to expire on September 30. On August 25, the commissioner’s court is set to reconsider the proposed contract’s arrangement.

"We need to unify the ambulatory services and make it accessible to everyone, not just better it for some and hurt others," Dodson said.

Firemen and chiefs from across the county met last week at a fundraiser in Waxahachie where the topic of the Careflite contract was discussed.

Though off the record, several fire fighters were concerned about response times from Careflite and expressed their frustrations to their bosses, which consist of mainly rural and volunteer fire departments in nine emergency service districts in the county, entities that are charged with providing financial resources (via property taxes) to fire departments.

Those resources do not include ambulatory service; that decision is made by the four commissioners, who usually approve contracts for one company.

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