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BENTONVILLE -- Benton County officials are considering a new provider for ambulance service on the west side of the county.

"We have decided to enter into negotiations with Northwest Health System," County Judge Barry Moehring said.

Rural ambulance service

Benton County has budgeted about $1.5 million to pay for rural ambulance service in 2018. The county expects to receive about $931,000 this year from a 0.2 mill dedicated property tax approved by voters for ambulance service. Another $317,000 is expected from the voluntary millage. The remainder of the cost, about $262,000, will come from the general fund revenue.

Source: Staff report

Moehring gave the Quorum Court's Committee of the Whole an update July 17 on his work on rural ambulance service.

Northwest Health System and Mercy Emergency Medical Services responded to a request for qualifications for an ambulance service provider for the area now covered by Siloam Springs and Gravette. Those cities said they're interested in continuing the arrangement but not in expanding their areas of service.

Bob Bland, justice of the peace for District 11, which includes much of northwestern Benton County, said he wants assurances service will not be reduced.

"I'm concerned about efficiency and response times," Bland said.

Moehring said there have been no problems with the quality of service on the west side of the county and the request for qualifications has performance standards, including minimum response times, to ensure service remains at the same levels.

Moehring said the county is trying to lower its cost. It has budgeted about $1.5 million in 2018 for rural ambulance service. That's down from about $1.8 million in 2017. The savings were made possible by an agreement with Mercy to provide ambulance service to two areas in eastern Benton County, including the area previously served by the Rogers Fire Department for about $352,000. With the larger service area having a higher call volume, Mercy was able to reduce its overall cost, according to the county.

The two proposals given outline how ambulance service would be provided, with Northwest estimating its cost at $400,000. Mercy said its cost could vary depending on negotiating "strategic partnerships" with providers and offered no estimate. For 2018, the county is paying Siloam Springs about $429,000 and Gravette about $194,000.

Chief Jeremey Criner of the Siloam Springs Fire Department has said it costs his department more to operate one ambulance than the city receives from the county, so a change in providers for the rural area wouldn't greatly impact his department.

For Gravette, the situation is different. If the county were to shift to a single-provider model on the west side, the loss of the county subsidy would force Gravette's Fire Department to make some budget cuts, including personnel, which would diminish the department's ability to provide ambulance service and to assist other agencies if needed, according to Fire Chief Lonnie Mullen.

According to Mullen, his department operates with himself and six full-time firefighter/paramedics, which allows the department to operate one ambulance, and uses 12 part-time firefighter/paramedics to have a second ambulance operating Monday through Friday during times when volunteer staffing is minimal. The loss of revenue could force him to cut his part-time staff.

The committee also endorsed adding language regarding the use of medical marijuana to the drug and alcohol policy. The justices of the peace adopted a model policy from the Association of Arkansas Counties for including medical marijuana in the drug-free and alcohol-free workplace policy. The recommended changes essentially deal with medical marijuana as the policy does prescription drugs.

The policy restricts employees in "safety-sensitive positions," which are defined as jobs "where impairment may present a clear and present risk to co-workers or other persons."

Safety-sensitive positions include those where the employee may be required to carry a firearm; do life-threatening procedures; work with confidential information; drive a vehicle or operate machinery; and others. Those employees are required to notify supervisors if they are prescribed a medication that might cause drowsiness or otherwise impair the employee's ability to safely do their job.

General News on 07/25/2018

Print Headline: Benton County officials get ambulance update

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