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Ambulance-Service Deal Covers Ark. Town

LITTLE ROCK,„Ark. -- Residents of the city of„Eudora,„Ark., can rest easy come Thursday knowing an ambulance service after more than a year without one will be available to the„Chicot„County town of 2,531.

Officials signed agreements with SouthArk EMS of Hamburg to cover Eudora and„Chicot„County, excluding the cities of Dermott and„Lake„Village, which are covered by two other ambulance companies.

"They're going to station an ambulance here in Eudora, finally!" Eudora Mayor William Stanton said. "We are very excited, yes sir." For the past year, the city of„Eudora has had no guaranteed ambulance service to transfer residents to hospitals, a problem Chicot County 911 coordinator James Cathey said reverted the town near the„Louisiana border back to the Stone Age.

Emergency Ambulance Services Inc., a Pine Bluff company with an ambulance station 16 miles away in Lake Village, did make runs to Eudora on a case-by-case basis about 85 percent of the time but the service wasn't guaranteed because no contract was signed.

That left Eudora without reliable service.

SouthArk EMS owner Shannon Shaver said he decided to bid on a contract for service to Eudora and„Chicot„County because he didn't believe a county should have uncovered areas.

"It's despicable in our opinion that a county the size of Chicot has two ambulance services and there's still portions of it not being protected," he said.

SouthArk EMS will begin servicing Eudora and„Chicot„County at 12:01 a.m. Thursday and will continue to service them through Jan. 31, 2011, according to the contracts.

Shaver said the company will offer group memberships to individuals for $45 a year and to families for $49 a year. Those who purchase a membership will have reduced ambulance bills, Shaver said.

"Everybody down here is looking forward to the new service," said Jeffrey J. Look, a Eudora attorney hired by the county to help draw up contracts with SouthArk EMS. "It will give people the peace of mind that if they have a heart attack, there will be an ambulance available to pick them up." The contracts call for South-Ark EMS to have an ambulance stationed in Eudora and another ambulance stationed near„Lake„Village, home to„Chicot„Memorial„Hospital.

A second agreement says that the three ambulance companies will share out-of-county transfers from the hospital in the event a patient doesn't choose an ambulance provider. Emergency Ambulance Services Inc. will retain all in-county transfers.

SouthArk EMS, since it covers the county and Eudora, will get out-of-county transfers from the hospital two weeks a month. Emergency Ambulance Services Inc. and another ambulance company in Dermott, Elite Medical Services Inc., will each get outof-county transfers one week a month.

Ambulance company owners have said they make much of their money on transfers.

Prior to this agreement, Emergency Ambulance Services Inc. had all the out-of-county transfers from the hospital when patients didn't have a preference for a particular ambulance company.

The deal prompted Elite and a fourth ambulance company, EMS of Southeast Arkansas, to file a federal lawsuit against Emergency Ambulance Services Inc., the city of Lake Village, Chicot Memorial Hospital and Chicot County alleging they violated the U.S. Constitution's commerce clause and antitrust laws.

Jim Dintelman, owner of Elite, said he doesn't know how the new transfer plan will affect his lawsuit, although he said he is happy his company will make out-of-county transfers from the hospital at least 12 weeks out of a year.

He said he is glad rural„Chicot„County and Eudora now have reliable ambulance service, although he questioned whether three ambulance companies can survive financially in rural„Chicot„County.

"As far as the long-term financial stability of the three companies, it's just going to be a wait and see thing," Dintelman said.

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