Osage County commissioners voted Friday afternoon to negotiate a contract with Miller EMS for ambulance service in the Barnsdall and Avant communities for the county’s 2018-19 fiscal year, which begins July 1.

Miller EMS and Pafford EMS were the two companies that submitted proposals to compete for the contract.

Samaritan EMS, which is under contract to provide ambulance service in Barnsdall and Avant through June 30, has voluntarily decided to pull out.

Samaritan has given assurances it intends to facilitate a smooth transition to a new provider for the Barnsdall-Avant area.

The chief executive officer of Samaritan EMS told the Pawhuska Journal-Capital in an email May 30, and again by telephone Thursday morning that his company will remain in place to provide ambulance service for the Barnsdall-Avant area until mid-day July 1.

Osage County commissioners had voiced concern in a meeting May 29 about a written notice from Samaritan that it would be terminating its contract as of 8 a.m. June 30. Commissioners were not expecting to have a new ambulance service in place until July 1, and were uncertain if they would be facing a possible gap in service from 8 a.m. June 30 until 12:01 a.m. July 1.

“We intend to continue service through noon of July 1 to assure a smooth transition to the new service provider,” Samaritan CEO Randall Herrin said in an email May 30. He said the written notice the company had given of its intent to terminate service as of 8 a.m. June 30 had been the result of a misunderstanding or miscommunication regarding the terms of its contract.

“We’re happy and, of course, want to stay until the contract is up,” Herrin said by telephone May 31. He said Samaritan’s decision to leave the Barnsdall/Avant area at the end of its contract with Osage County is the result of financial losses while serving the area.

“We lose several thousand dollars a month serving that contract,” Herrin said. Despite a subsidy from Osage County, the total revenue Samaritan receives for its work in Barnsdall/Avant “does not come near meeting our costs,” Herrin said.

Herrin said Samaritan notified Osage County leadership May 30 that it will ensure a smooth transition.

The Journal-Capital checked the morning of May 31 with District 1 Commissioner Jerry Howerton, to see what he had been told about Samaritan’s status.

Howerton said he had received word second-hand on Wednesday that Samaritan would stay in place to prevent any gap in ambulance service for Barnsdall and Avant.

In its written proposal to Osage County, Miller EMS pledged to start service at 12:01 a.m. July 1, and to have one staffed ambulance per day available in Barnsdall to serve both Barnsdall and Avant. It quoted two options for both staffing requirements and cost.

In its Option 1, Miller EMS quoted the monthly cost of service at $18,000 if providing “basic life support, but with an emphasis on paramedic life support.” Matt Miller, the owner of Miller EMS, said he anticipates being able to provide paramedic life support 60-70 percent of the time under this basic life support option.

In its Option 2, Miller EMS quoted service with 100-percent required paramedic life support at $35,000 per month.

Matt Miller explained the difference in fee proposals by saying he anticipated having to spend a lot of money to compete with EMSA if contractually bound to provide a paramedic 100 percent of the time.

He also defended the quality of basic life support ambulances, characterizing that quality as having improved over time.

“A basic life support ambulance is a very capable ambulance these days,” Matt Miller said.

Miller EMS is based in Medford and has a presence in several smaller communities, including the western Osage County community of Fairfax and the north Tulsa County community of Owasso. Cumulatively, Miller EMS responds to about 5,500 calls a year, it said in its proposal.

Pafford EMS, the other company that made a proposal, is a larger outfit that serves communities in Arkansas, Oklahoma, Louisiana and Mississippi. Pafford submitted its proposal through its Claremore office.

Pafford said in its proposal that it could offer one Advanced Life Support ambulance for the Barnsdall-Avant area, and quoted its fee at $282,000 per year, payable in monthly amounts of $23,500. Pafford said it would buy a new ambulance and new equipment for the Barnsdall-Avant contract.

John Heskett, municipal attorney for both Barnsdall and Avant, was on-hand for the Friday meeting in which commissioners decided to negotiate a deal with Miller EMS.

Heskett said Barnsdall and Avant “appreciate everything that’s being done” to attempt to provide emergency medical care for their residents. He said the two communities intend to continue participating financially.

Both Barnsdall and Avant already charge $10 per month per water meter for ambulance service, Heskett said.

During a meeting Monday of this week, Osage County commissioners commented about their decision to negotiate a contract with Miller EMS.

District 3 Commissioner Darren McKinney acknowledged that Miller’s more-economical option is basic life support, but he pointed out that it comes with an estimate of paramedic life support 60-70 percent of the time. McKinney also noted that Matt Miller showed up for the county board meeting and talked with commissioners about details of his proposal, whereas Pafford had no representative at the meeting.

“They were here. They showed up. They spoke to us,” McKinney said of Miller EMS. “It sounded like a win-win.”

Matt Miller told Osage County commissioners last Friday he is open to suggestions about negotiating a mutually beneficial agreement.

“If there’s anything we missed, let me know,” he said. “You let us know if there’s something you want to change.”