New ambulance agreement enhances life-saving capability on the west side of Benton County
Earlier this month, Benton County signed an agreement with Northwest Health Emergency Medical Services to provide additional ambulance services to west-side residents. The cities of Gentry and Decatur also signed on to this agreement for services within those cities.
As a result, three additional ambulances will be dispatched to emergency calls on the west side. Those ambulances will be stationed in Siloam Springs, Gentry and Gravette.
The agreement goes into effect on Jan. 1, 2019, and lasts for three years with options for additional terms.
Currently, ambulance service is provided to all west-side residents by the cities of Siloam Springs and Gravette. Those cities will continue to provide service within their city limits and, in the case of Siloam Springs, within its fire district boundary. Gravette will also continue to provide service to Sulphur Springs.
This agreement provides for a number of key benefits for west side residents.
Three additional 24-hours-a-day, sevendays-a-week Advanced Life Support ambulances mean response times will go down for much of the west side of Benton County. There will be more life-saving equipment closer to more residents than there is today.
This additional equipment will also be a tremendous benefit to Siloam Springs and Gravette. Currently, when ambulances from those cities answer long-distance calls into the unincorporated areas, those fire departments must redeploy other ambulances to make up for additional unincorporated calls. Under this agreement, those ambulances will be staying in or close to the city limits of Siloam Springs and Gravette, so there will be less strain on those fire departments.
This agreement will have a positive impact on mutual aid. Mutual aid basically means that when the resources of one department are already in use, a neighboring department fills in for the responding department in case of an additional emergency call. In Gravette, for example, mutual aid was called this year in at least 14 different instances from Bella Vista, Bentonville and Siloam Springs. Because of this agreement, mutual aid will be available from the three additional ambulances that are already in the area, thereby offering another means of cutting response time to emergency patients.
Finally, this agreement saves Benton County taxpayers more than $195,000 in annual costs. Between 2013 and 2018, the contract costs for ambulance service between Siloam Springs, Gravette and Benton County have risen from $85,000 to more than $623,000. This is a more than 600 percent increase. During the same period, ambulance runs have only increased by around 20 percent.
These cost increases were just not sustainable within Benton County’s budget. Every dollar in increased contract costs for ambulance service was one less dollar for sheriff’s deputies, county roads or the county jail.
Benton County’s agreement with Northwest Health Emergency Medical Services was the result of a competitive request for qualification process. Based on the written submission and resulting interview, Northwest Health Emergency Medical Services clearly was the best choice to provide the service prescribed in the RFQ application. Northwest Health Emergency Medical Services stood out as the leading candidate for Benton County due to a number of factors, including its financial strength and stability, extensive EMS operating experience with over 80 ambulance systems in other parts of the country and its commitment to being a highly qualified and respected medical provider in our region.
Benton County undertook a similar action on the southeast side of the county in 2017 which resulted in Mercy Emergency Medical Services providing ambulance service in that region. That process resulted in nearly $300,000 in savings to Benton County taxpayers and, similarly to this outcome on the west side, placed ALS ambulance service closer to unincorporated Benton County citizens.
At Benton County, we have an obligation to seek out the best EMS solutions for our citizens. By expanding ALS ambulance coverage, improving response times and saving taxpayer dollars, we believe this agreement achieves that goal.