Town struggles with EMS cost

Robert Smith

Fairfax town officials told Osage County commissioners Monday the town of about 1,300 people faces a sharp increase in the amount it has to pay for ambulance service.

Town Clerk Rae Ann Smith said the town’s contract with Miller EMS expires at the end of February, and the company has quoted an increase from $7,500 per month to $13,000 per month to continue service. That would mean a jump from $90,000 per year to $156,000.

Miller EMS provides ambulance care to residents of the town, as well as to residents of surrounding areas. Smith said the town has already “pretty much absorbed all that we can” financially. This adverse news comes on the heels of other recent challenges Fairfax has confronted — trouble in its relationship with the management of the local hospital, and a tornado that damaged numerous downtown buildings.

Smith said town officials would be having an executive session Wednesday, Jan. 30, to talk about both litigation in regard to the hospital and the ambulance service situation. She told the county commissioners Monday that Fairfax may seek bids for its ambulance service due to the increase.

“We’re kind of in limbo right now, but we just wanted you to know that we have a need,” Smith said.

District 3 Commissioner Darren McKinney, who is from Fairfax, told Smith he would visit with her after the town’s discussion.

Matt Miller, owner of Miller EMS, was on-hand Monday for the Board of Commissioners meeting. He gave a report about service his company provided in the Barnsdall and Avant communities in Osage County during November and December, and he commented on the Fairfax situation.

Miller stressed he wants to work cooperatively with the town and the county to find a solution, and that he wants to avoid being seen as taking any adversarial position.

“I don’t want this to be viewed as an ultimatum type situation,” he said.

Miller said the increased charge is a result of the difficulty of recruiting and keeping personnel who can provide emergency care within the parameters of the business model for the EMS service as it has been operated in Fairfax.

Miller EMS currently has one employee who lives in the service area and provides ambulance service on an as-needed, on-call basis, Miller said. This means the person may have another job that is his or her primary source of income, but have the freedom to respond as needed to ambulance calls. The employee is not full-time with the ambulance service.

Miller EMS also brings in other personnel as they are needed, Miller said; however, he said persons driving into the service area have been commuting as much as three hours to get there.

“We have to give these folks a livable wage to work there,” he said. Miller also explained that his company has conducted emergency-responder courses to try to recruit personnel, but has been unsuccessful in keeping more than one person who took a course.

District 2 Commissioner Kevin Paslay asked if the company can provide the commissioners with figures about billing to insurance companies for care that has been provided in the Fairfax area.

“You need to see those numbers,” Miller said, pledging to provide Osage County officials with information.