By Anthony Thomas
Del City is now working with Samaritan (Pafford) EMS due to recent shortfalls of Alliance Health Midwest EMS.
The city council approved the temporary six-month contract with Pafford EMS at the Feb. 1 meeting. Del City will pay Pafford $15,000 per month, for the next six months to ensure there is always at least one ambulance available in Del City.
In the past few years, the Del City Fire Department had noticed issues with their prior EMS provider, Midwest EMS. Midwest EMS has been Del City’s main ambulance provider since the 1980s.
Fire Chief Brandon Pursell explained to the council the primary reason for the split is due to the current status of the hospital and the issues it has, with the increased number of EMS/medical calls annually, and the COVID-19 pandemic stretching EMS and health services thin. Because of these issues, the fire department and City find it necessary to find a solution.
In a memo on the current EMS situation to the City Council, Pursell said, “We have reached a point where we as a body need to plan and prepare for the future of EMS for our city, both as an immediate, temporary solution and as a long-term solution.”
The number of ambulances in recent years has been dramatically reduced because Midwest EMS lost its coverage area at Tinker AFB and in Moore. Before losing Tinker and Moore, Midwest EMS on average had nine ambulances on the street. After losing Moore and Tinker, the day shift for Midwest EMS had five in-service ambulances. Their coverage area includes Midwest City, Del City, Choctaw, Harrah, Spencer, Jones, Luther, and portions of Lincoln County near Wellston. On many recent occasions, the actual number of ambulances on the streets was at two or three.
Ambulances defined as in-service and out on the streets, refers to the number of ambulances available for Midwest EMS’s entire coverage area, not just Del City.
Several years ago the Del City Fire Department met with EMS Director Larry Terry. Terry laid out a list of reasons for the problems.
“Primarily, Midwest EMS is considered a private ambulance service and is operated by Alliance Health Midwest, “said Terry. “The hospital has been experiencing challenges and those challenges are affecting the ambulance operation regarding competitive employee pay compared to other ambulance providers, being down several staff positions and not being able to fill those positions and an aging fleet of ambulances.”
Terry assured Pursell things were anticipated to improve and in early to mid-2019 they did.
In the summer of 2019, Pursell was approached by two local EMS providers, EMSA and Samaritan. EMSA has two divisions in Oklahoma, the west division includes Oklahoma City, Edmond, Nichols Hills, The Village, and Mustang, and the east division covers Tulsa and surrounding cities. Samaritan has its office close to Del City and provides services to Tinker Air Force Base, Yukon, Bethany, and Warr Acres.
Samaritan (Pafford) was given the contract to provide EMS service to Tinker after Midwest EMS lost the contract. Pafford EMS has since merged with Samaritan under the brand. The company does not follow the priority dispatch model, all responses are Code 3, meaning they use the lights and sirens. Subsidies from communities are paid based on the number of utility accounts to help offset operational costs.
Del City reached an agreement with Midwest EMS and Samaritan in 2019. The agreement asked Pafford EMS to be Del City’s primary mutual aid provider if Midwest EMS was not able to respond. When the pandemic hit, Pafford had to eliminate all mutual aid responses from Tinker.
2020 was the breaking point of the city’s partnership with Midwest EMS. The total number of responses from Midwest EMS last year was 1,206 but in 30 of those calls, the ambulance arrived more than 20 minutes after the fire department was on the scene. Mutual aid was called to Del City 120 times and only 12 times did they arrive more than 20 minutes after firefighters were on the scene. Del City Fire saw Midwest EMS arrive 40 minutes late six times.
Speaking to the council last Monday Pursell explained the need for Del City to have a dedicated ambulance and the temporary contract with Pafford EMS was intended to give the city a chance to find a permanent solution.
“A dedicated ambulance to Del City would address several of the external challenges that we have no control over, however, it would come with a cost,” said Pursell. “Our goal is to have a quality EMS service that can meet the needs of our community and our citizens with the least financial burden on all stakeholders.”
The city anticipates it will take six months to find a permanent solution. Del City believes that Pafford has the qualifications, experience, and abilities to provide service.
In the agreement, Pafford is expected to provide emergency ambulance services, provide a paramedic with each ambulance, and maintain a minimum of one ambulance dedicated to the City of Del City at all times. If an ambulance isn’t available the company will dispatch one of their ambulances stationed at Tinker.
The agreement will run from February 1st, 2021, until June 30th, 2021. Pafford EMS will charge the city $15,000 per month for the next six months. The agreement does not create a partnership but is exclusively a service contract. Pafford is responsible for providing all tools, machinery, equipment, raw materials, supplies, workwear, and any other items necessary.
City leaders and the fire department are taking the first steps toward correcting the current problems with EMS services. For the next six months, there will be at least one ambulance available in Del City at any time. In the coming months, the city will be looking at the best way to permanently provide EMS services to Del City.