— By CHRISTIN COYNE
Just weeks after the Parker County Hospital District closed on land north of Brock to build an ambulance station, the timing of a pitch last week from an ambulance company regarding provision of ground ambulance service in ESD No. 9 has ruffled some feathers and caused hospital district officials to seek assurance that a LifeCare ambulance station is wanted in southwest Parker County.
Hospital district officials claim the emergency services district board for the Brock-Dennis area did not give them a definitive answer during a recent meeting on whether the ESD board planned to seek ambulance service from another provider.
However, the president of the ESD No. 9 board of commissioners, Jim Calhoun, said the board does want to see a LifeCare ambulance stationed in the area and he thought that had been communicated following the meeting.
Officials say the confusion could delay plans for LifeCare ambulance expansion in the western half of the county.
LifeCare currently operates ambulances out of stations in Weatherford, Springtown and Willow Park. Firefighters in areas of the western half of the county have expressed concerns for years about the longer response times for calls from Adell and Whitt, to Brock and Dennis and areas in between. In an effort to address the issue and save more lives, several fire departments, including Brock-Dennis Fire Rescue, have met requirements within the past several years to be dispatched as volunteer first responder organizations providing emergency medical treatment.
On Nov. 21, the hospital closed on approximately 2 acres of land off Farm-to-Market Road 1189 near Interstate 20, agreeing to pay nearly $200,000 for the property where they plan to build a station to house up to two ambulances and crews.
The planned station should significantly improve paramedics’ response times to areas within the southwest and central western portions of Parker County. In normal traffic, it currently takes about 14 to 15 minutes for an ambulance responding from Weatherford to reach the area of the planned station, according to LifeCare Director Paul Smith.
During a meeting Thursday of the Parker County Hospital District Board of Directors, CEO Randall Young told the board that the district was asked to come speak during an ESD No. 9 meeting the week prior but realized other ambulance providers had been invited, as well.
“CareFlite made a presentation and talked about a ground ambulance,” Young said. “So when it was my turn, I was a little bit taken aback because I thought it was general knowledge that we were looking, that we were buying, that we were building. And so, I said, ‘We came out here expecting to talk about our plans for construction but I have a board meeting Thursday and if you are considering someone else providing ambulance service for this area, what we need to do is put that on hold and take a step back.’”
“There seemed to be some opposing opinions on this board of five,” Young said. “And they didn’t give us a definitive answer. But I did talk about what the hospital district does ...”
“I said we had been looking for a year, and our plans are, we don’t want to go somewhere we’re not wanted,” Young told the hospital district board. “So Paul [Smith, LifeCare Director] and I left and we were a little bit mad and a little bit discouraged. We were going to ask you [the hospital district board] to ‘let’s just take a step back until they make their minds up.’ And then I got further word later that they were expecting us to come in, there’s no question they want us to come in, but what I think I’d like you to do is talk to your people out in Brock and tell them we’d really like to be out there.”
The hospital district board discussed asking for a resolution from the ESD No. 9 board to resolve the issue but could take no action because it had been placed on the district’s agenda.
Director Jamie Bodiford suggested the district erect a sign on the recently purchased property to inform area residents of their plans.
Young said he communicated that the district would like positive reinforcement that the district is not spinning its wheels and was told that the issue is not going to come up again.
He hopes that a scheduled meeting with a couple of commissioners will allay his fears, Young said.
There were hurt feelings between some volunteer firefighters and LifeCare paramedics following a bad accident more than a year ago that Young implied could be affecting the situation.
“I don’t think this is going to stop us,” Young said. “It may slow us down for a week.”
ESD No. 9
Calhoun said the ESD is not seeking to replace ground ambulance service in the area but is looking at all their options from the perspective of taxpayers.
He said commissioners weren’t aware prior to the ESD No. 9 meeting on Jan. 14 that LifeCare had purchased property in the area or that CareFlite and Air Evac had been invited to give presentations to commissioners.
“We didn’t actually know that that was going to happen in that meeting,” Calhoun said.
It was an educational discussion for commissioners, according to Calhoun.
Asked if commissioners were considering a change in ground ambulance service for the area, Calhoun said, “Well you never say never to anything.”
“That’s not a hornet’s nest that needs to be stirred up right now, in my opinion,” Calhoun said. “But, on the other end of it, there are other alternatives. I’m not educated enough as to what all of it is about before we do it but I do understand that LifeCare has purchased a piece of property and our position, as are commissioners in each ESD, is that we have the responsibility to spend the taxpayers money the most wisely so you’ve got to look at that.”
“At this time we are in no position to make any change whatsoever and I don’t want to as long as I feel like, and the citizens of this area feel like, they are getting the most bang for their buck,” Calhoun added.
“If they don’t want us, that’s one thing,” Calhoun said. “We have many options. But on the other end of it, they came and they spoke their piece. We also had contact with them the next morning to assure them that if there was any problem, if they had any kind of reserves or concerns, to don’t have them on our part. And that was face-to-face.”
“We assured them that we would be behind them if they wanted to do what they wanted to do,” Calhoun added. “That seems to me, ludicrous to think that we didn’t [want an ambulance station in the area].”
There is a history of promises to put an ambulance in the area, Calhoun said, adding that he understands that when the fire hall was built years ago, the county promised to put an ambulance in it but that never happened.