Oklahoma City Evaluates Future of Paramedic Service

Decision may affect citizens throughout the metro area


Michael Kimball, The Oklahoman | | Thursday, July 14, 2011


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Oklahoma City FD May Takeover Ambulance Service

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OKLAHOMA CITY -- The Oklahoma City Council on Tuesday began to study the future of the city's paramedic services, and its eventual decision could affect residents of cities throughout the metro and in the Tulsa area.

Paramedic services in Oklahoma City and Tulsa are currently handled by the Emergency Medical Services Authority in a trust involving EMSA and both city governments. A window of opportunity for the three entities to opt out of the trust opens in October.

But it's not just EMSA, Tulsa and Oklahoma City who will be affected by decisions made in October. Several suburbs of Tulsa and Oklahoma City also use EMSA ambulances and paramedics, and a dissolution of the trust could leave them scrambling for a new way to treat their residents and take them to hospitals in emergency situations.

Edmond, Yukon, Mustang, Bethany, The Village, Nichols Hills, Warr Acres, Piedmont, Arcadia, Lake Aluma and Valley Brook also use EMSA in the Oklahoma City area, along with the Tulsa suburbs of Bixby, Jenks and Sand Springs.

Dissolution could be complicated

The cities of Tulsa and Oklahoma City, EMSA trustees and the governor have to agree unanimously for the EMSA Trust to be dissolved, Oklahoma City Municipal Counselor Kenneth Jordan said.

If Oklahoma City or Tulsa chooses to opt out of the trust without the unanimous consent of the others, they can only remove their funding from the trust, which would survive.

That could open the door to litigation, Jordan said.

But the involved parties could work to cooperate to allow one city to walk away without resulting in a chaotic legal mess.

Problems could arise for the other cities even if the trust is not dissolved. For example, if Oklahoma City, the largest EMSA user, were to opt out, costs could increase for other cities using the service because of the reduced economy of scale. And if the trust is dissolved altogether, the smaller suburbs without a guaranteed voice in the decision would be left with no ambulance or paramedic service.

The cities would still have time to find an alternative. Oklahoma City, Tulsa and EMSA have an Oct. 31 deadline to opt out of the trust, and EMSA would still continue to serve all involved cities until Nov. 1, 2013.

The presentation Tuesday to the Oklahoma City Council centered on a proposal to have the fire department step in for EMSA if the trust is dissolved or the city opts out. Fire Chief Keith Bryant told the council using an expansion of the fire department to include a medical services division could save the city more than $1 million per year by fiscal year 2015 as compared to the current system.

The city estimates most of the savings would come from eliminating having both firefighters and EMSA paramedics responding to medical emergencies in the city, which is the current structure in most cases.

But the city's figures have not yet been verified by a third party, a move requested Tuesday by Ward 8 Councilman Pat Ryan.

The council has also not yet heard a presentation from EMSA on how the organization would plan to operate under a five-year contract it would receive if the city chooses to continue using the trust.

Council members, fire and EMSA officials and City Manager Jim Couch agreed Tuesday to discuss the issues further at upcoming council meetings over the next three months.

Couch is also likely to meet with officials from other cities that will be affected by the decision to get their input.

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