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— The city of Gentry could soon have to pay a fee for ambulance service within its city limits.

Ambulance service is currently being provided by the Siloam Springs Fire Department, but due to the difference between actual costs and what is paid by Medicare and the patients who use the service - many don't or can't pay the full bill for the service - the Siloam Springs Fire Department has been providing the service to Gentry at a loss.

Because Medicare allows only $248 for an ambulance run and the actual cost per run is closer to $600 - counting equipment and full-time trained personnel to man and operate the service - the city of Siloam Springs and its fire department have begun negotiating with Gentry and its fire department to possibly establish a fee to help cover the costs of the service to Gentry, according to Gentry's fire chief, Vester Cripps.

Apparently the problem is not unique to Gentry. Other cities, too, contract for ambulance service, Cripps said, mentioning as an example an agreement between Lowell and Springdale. Lowell pays Springdale $400 per ambulance call, Cripps said at a Thursday Fire Committee meeting.

Siloam Springs has cut some of its services in Oklahoma and recently reached an agreement to provide service in West Siloam Springs after a donor stepped up to cover the cost.

Fire dues might be a way to help cover the cost for those within the Gentry Fire District but outside city limits, Cripps said. Another option might include some sort of agreement with the county.

Discussion of the matter is still in the very early stages, according to Gentry Mayor Wes Hogue.

"It's still too early to even discuss any kind of fee agreement," Hogue said. "Our goal is to keep the same level of high-quality service available to Gentry residents," he said.

Hogue described the initial discussions as very amicable and hopes an agreement can be reached which will well serve both cities - an agreement which will help Siloam Springs bear the cost of providing the service and an agreement which will ensure the same high-quality service is available to residents in the city of Gentry.

News, Pages 1, 2 on 09/30/2009

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