Citizens have raised questions about the new mutual aid agreement between Windsor Ambulance District and Pettis County Ambulance District that was approved Tuesday night, and officials from both districts spoke with the Democrat Thursday to answer them.
The City of Windsor has been without an ambulance service since June due to lack of funds and employees, with more than $200,000 owed to state and federal IRS. Neighboring ambulance services have helped when available, but the WAD board wanted a better solution for its citizens. WAD board Chairman Steve Galloway said the board looked at several options before deciding to work with PCAD.
“We looked at AMR — American Medical Rescue — out of Kansas City. They’re a contracting service,” he explained. “We did talk to Cole Camp, we also inquired with Golden Valley (Memorial Hospital in Clinton) early on, of course Johnson County Ambulance District, we talked with them early on and they weren’t interested. Then we seriously thought about dissolving the district.
“Golden Valley immediately told us no, Johnson County immediately told us no,” Galloway continued. “The one in Kansas City, they came down to Windsor and visited, we had a town hall meeting with them and they decided it wasn’t feasible for them to service us.”
Galloway said he thought they looked into as many options as possible before signing a contract with PCAD.
“They were willing to come into our community and provide a service with ALS (advanced life support) instead of basic life support, they were willing to offer ALS plus give us an opportunity to service our debt,” he said.
It was announced during Tuesday’s WAD board meeting the district will pay PCAD $20,000 for the first year of service, with the remainder of the 2016 budget being devoted to managing the district’s debt. The second year will be $30,000, the third year will be $40,000, the fourth year will be $50,000 and the districts will renegotiate the contract, and the fifth year will be $60,000.
“We felt like with that fee structure we would hopefully, our goal is to have all of our debts paid in five years,” Galloway said. “That was a major concern, how we were going to be able to provide an ambulance service to the community and service our debt. Those were the two biggest things (about deciding to work with PCAD).”
One of the biggest citizen concerns is that PCAD will be providing service to another county, which is partially true — the City of Windsor is located in both Pettis and Henry counties. Some citizens have suggested having Henry County ambulances service the Henry County portion of the city, but that wouldn’t be possible, as a Henry County Ambulance District does not exist.
PCAD Administrator Mike Gardner said there are a variety of reasons PCAD agreed to help Windsor, but one of the main reasons is to simply help people in need.
“No. 1, a portion of that district is in our county and the people of Windsor, I think our board even feels this way, do a lot of business in our community,” he said. “The whole issue is there are people in Windsor that are waiting over an hour or so for an ambulance. We’re all about taking care of people. … We’re doing it as a humanitarian thing. They’ve asked every county to help them and besides Cole Camp, we’re the only ones that are here to help.”
Gardner reassured Pettis County citizens that PCAD is not offering this service for free and that this new endeavor will not hinder service to Pettis citizens.
“The main thing I want to stress is we’re not doing it for free,” Gardner said. “We’re getting paid (by WAD) and getting patient billing and a portion of Windsor’s property tax. We’re not trying to take any money from PCAD nor are we going to have a reduction in service for the Pettis County Ambulance District. Anything we invest is going to be paid back. Our whole goal is we can get (an ambulance service in Windsor) back up and running financially and turn it back over to (WAD).”
He added that PCAD is allowing WAD to keep a portion of property taxes so they can continue paying off debt, but after four years PCAD will get almost all of the property tax money in Pettis going to help WAD.
Gardner said that not only will the same level of service remain for Pettis citizens through PCAD, it may even be extended. The upcoming Windsor station, set to open in early February, will eventually house two ambulances and will be utilized for calls in that area of the county to cut down on response time.
Citizens have also suggested that instead of working in Windsor, PCAD should focus on building more satellite bases in Pettis County. Gardner said that’s exactly what they’re doing, in addition to helping Windsor.
“(Working in Windsor) is not going to stop us in our progress here in the Pettis County Ambulance District,” he said. “We are building our first base (on state Route TT) and actually the Windsor base, where we’re at we’ll be servicing the southern portion of Pettis, the Green Ridge area, so we are increasing our coverage to that area as well.
“Our plans to continue to make sure we get coverage has not been stopped or slowed down. Our progress in this district is still our focus. All those things take time — we can’t build two or three bases at one time. We’re building one out east, it’s the board’s decision where we’ll start next. I imagine there will be some ideas and planning in 2016 for that.”
In the end, both Galloway and Gardner said they are just trying to provide an ambulance service to Windsor citizens.
“We’re trying to do the best for the people in Windsor, they are our neighbors,” Gardner said. “If you don’t have compassion for people, you can’t be in this business.”
Nicole Cooke can be reached at 660-826-1000 ext. 1482 or @NicoleRCooke.