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BENTONVILLE -- Officials are looking for an ambulance service provider for the west side of rural Benton County.

The county has advertised a request for qualifications for ambulance service providers, hoping to consolidate the service on the west side. The request was issued May 25, and interested companies have until June 15 to respond. No responses had been received as of Friday.

Rural ambulance service for western Benton County is provided by Siloam Springs and Gravette. The county has agreements with Bella Vista, Bentonville and Pea Ridge -- along with the Northeast Benton County Fire Department and Mercy Emergency Medical Services -- to provide rural ambulance service to other areas.

The county has budgeted about $1.5 million for the service in 2018, down from about $1.8 million in 2017. The $300,000 reduction resulted after some service areas on the east side of the county were consolidated under Mercy Emergency Medical Services.

County Judge Barry Moehring said he wants to see if having a single provider on the west side of the county is possible and economical. He said the county will look to maintain what he said is an excellent level of service provided by Siloam Springs and Gravette.

"Gravette and Siloam Springs have been great partners," he said. "Service is not an issue in any of this. It's been first-rate. But they've made it clear over the last few years it's very expensive for them to provide services to the county."

The county's subsidy to the Gravette Fire Department has grown from $73,182 in 2014 to $147,505 this year, according to the county. The subsidy to Siloam Springs has increased from $334,367 in 2014 to $429,047 this year. Payments to the service providers are based on the costs of providing the service, as agreed upon by the provider and the county.

Overall, the county's cost for rural ambulance service increased from $942,338 in 2014 to $1.8 million in 2017 before dropping to $1.5 million this year.

The cost savings this year resulted from a partnership between Mercy Emergency Medical Services and the Beaver Lake Fire Department. The responsibility for serving areas east of Rogers shifted from that city's fire department to the partnership.

The Rogers Fire Department service cost the county about $352,000 in 2017. Mercy was providing ambulance service to the southeastern portion of the county for $466,000 in 2017. Mercy proposed combining the two areas for $546,000. Mercy officials said having a greater call volume to rely on by combining the service areas enabled them to lower the cost.

Tom Allen, justice of the peace for District 4 and chairman of the county's Finance Committee, said his first concern is quality of service. Saving money has to be a secondary consideration, he said.

"If we can have the same or better quality of service and then save some money, I'm all for that," he said.

Officials in Gravette and Siloam Springs said it's unlikely they would consider expanding their service, although they would consider maintaining the current arrangement.

"We're happy with our service area," said Gravette Mayor Kurt Maddox.

Maddox said Gravette ambulances serve Decatur and Sulphur Springs in addition to rural areas in northwestern Benton County. He said his city's first concern is maintaining the level of service.

"We don't want to do anything that would hurt our citizens and our response times," he said.

Chief Jeremey Criner of the Siloam Springs Fire Department said his department is struggling to cover the cost of service outside the city and isn't likely to take on any more territory. Siloam Springs serves an area of about 140 square miles outside the city, he said.

"We have the subsidy we get from the county to have an ambulance available," he said. "It costs us more to run one ambulance than the subsidy."

Kurt Moore, justice of the peace for District 13, which includes much of southwestern Benton County, suggested the two cities could consider some kind of contractual arrangement in which they combine services under the direction of one of the cities.

Moehring said moving to a single provider is not set in stone. He said the arrangement between Mercy and Beaver Lake Fire Department shows there is no single way of doing business.

"We want people in the EMS community to be creative in their thinking," he said.

Rural ambulance service

Benton County has agreements with five cities -- Bella Vista, Bentonville, Gravette, Pea Ridge and Siloam Springs -- along with the Northeast Benton County Fire Department and Mercy Health System to provide rural ambulance services. The ambulance providers will be paid about $1.5 million in 2018.

Source: Benton County

General News on 06/13/2018

Print Headline: Benton County explores ambulance options

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