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Eudora, Ark., Lacks Reliable Ambulance Service

EUDORA, Ark. — Seven weeks ago, Eudora resident Gwendolyn Dotson called 911 and asked for an ambulance to come get her 13-year-old son Gavin, who is plagued with a rare heart disease and was having a seizure.

The ambulance company, Emergency Ambulance Services Inc., notified her that a truck was coming to transport the teen to Chicot Memorial Hospital in Lake Village.

Minutes later, Dotson said she received a call from dispatch notifying her that the ambulance service had a change of plans and was unable to make the 16-mile run from Lake Village to Eudora to pick up Gavin, who by that point had passed out from lack of oxygen.

Dotson and Gavin s tutor, Beverly Dowdy, drove the youngster to the hospital and doctors were able to stabilize him.

Dotson, however, fears the next time Gavin has a seizure, he may not be so lucky.

If it happens again — and I know it will — I fear he may die or lose consciousness for a long time, Dotson said Thursday in a telephone interview. It s a serious matter for me and the elderly people here in Eudora. It s a serious matter for everybody. For the past year, the city of Eudora has had no guaranteed ambulance service to transfer residents to hospitals, a problem the local 911 coordinator says reverts the town near the Louisiana border back to the Stone Age.

The 2,531-population Chicot County community declined to enter into an agreement this year with Emergency Ambulance Services Inc., a Pine Bluff company with a two-ambulance station near Chicot Memorial Hospital in Lake Village.

EASI and another ambulance company 35 miles from Eudora in Dermott, Elite Medical Services Inc., will transfer Eudora residents to hospitals on a case-by-case basis, although neither company is obligated.

The lack of guaranteed ambulance service has led to resident complaints, including one from Dotson, who has filed hers with Eudora Mayor William Stanton.

It s a pretty serious situation out here in Eudora, said James Cathey, the Chicot County 911 coordinator. Not having an ambulance service puts us back in the Stone Age. The city of Eudora had had an ambulance company stationed in its community from the early 1990s until last September, Cathey said, when Elite moved its ambulance company from Eudora to Dermott. Elite, by moving, canceled its emergency services contract with Eudora and entered into one with Dermott, population 3,422, according to the U.S. Census Web site.

Spearheading Elite s move to Dermott was the decision by EMS of Southeast Arkansas, another ambulance service company, to cancel its agreement with Dermott last year.

Since Elite left Eudora, 911 dispatchers have to contact Elite or EASI to transfer Eudora patients to hospitals on a case-by-case basis.

EASI, which is closest, is the first company contacted in case of an emergency, Cathey said.

Ken Starnes, the owner of EASI, said he receives about 20 calls for service to Eudora each month and is able to serve about 85 percent of those calls.

Had the city entered into the contract, Starnes said, he would be obligated to answer all of the calls to Eudora.

I feel terrible for these folks in Eudora because they don t have an ambulance service, Starnes said. They re basically unprotected. Stanton, however, said the agreement with EASI would have been worse than what the city has now. He said EASI s franchise agreement with the city of Lake Village means the ambulance company has to have one ambulance available there at all times. EASI has two ambulances in Lake Village and serves the rural part of Chicot County, so if one ambulance is called out to the county, a second ambulance must be stationed in Lake Village.

This means if one ambulance was on a call and Eudora needed the second ambulance, they would have to wait for the first ambulance to return to Lake Village, Stanton said.

The proposed agreement, the mayor said, did not provide for an ambulance to be stationed in Eudora, which was what the city wanted.

The contract did say an ambulance, if called, would have to be on location in Eudora in less than 20 minutes in accordance with the standards of the American Ambulance Association.

Starnes said if Eudora had entered into an agreement with EASI, his company would have been obligated to come pick up its residents — whether or not there was an ambulance in Lake Village. If EASI didn t have an ambulance available, Starnes said his company would have had been obligated to call for mutual aid from other ambulance services in Dermott or neighboring Ashley County.

As it stands now, EASI will help out Eudora the best it can, but without an agreement the ambulance service isn t obligated to respond, Starnes said.

Right now, if we get a call from Eudora, and I have two ambulances in Lake Village, I ll send one to Eudora, but if I only have one, I won t leave my service area uncovered to help somewhere that s outside my service area, Starnes said. Had they entered into the agreement, then I would have. Stanton said the situation is endangering his residents. He said he s thought about the possibility of having a city-owned ambulance staffed by city employees, but he doesn t believe the city could afford it.

Starnes said he has offered to give Eudora an old ambulance for free for them to use as a safety net.

The city would have to get the ambulance licensed through the health department and insured, Starnes said.

I offered a contract to them, which they didn t want, and then offered to give them an ambulance, Starnes said. I m not really sure what else I can do. Meanwhile, Elite and EMS of Southeast Arkansas have filed a federal lawsuit against EASI, the city of Lake Village, Chicot Memorial Hospital and Chicot County alleging they violated the U.S. Constitution s commerce clause and anti-trust laws.

The lawsuit alleges that EASI can t be the only ambulance service allowed to transport patients from Chicot Memorial to other area hospitals and nursing homes.

Jim Dintelman, owner of Elite, declined to comment for this story and referred all calls to his attorney, John L. Kearney, of Pine Bluff. Kearney did not return calls.

Starnes declined to comment on the lawsuit, but did say if a Chicot Memorial patient is going to be transported from the hospital, the patient is asked whether he or she has a preference on what ambulance transports them. If they don t, EASI makes the transport, Starnes said.

On Tuesday, the Lake Village City Council — after going out for bids for an ambulance service — voted to extend its contract with EASI for three years, city officials said.

Other complaints against EASI include the ambulance service s requirement to take its Chicot County residents to Chicot Memorial Hospital first.

Some of the residents in Eudora and south Chicot County have a physician who works at West Carroll Memorial Hospital in Oak Grove, La.

Starnes said he can t technically take patients to hospitals in Mississippi or Louisiana, because they aren t in his service area. He can, however, transfer a patient from Chicot Memorial to an out-of-state hospital in a non-emergency.

Starnes pointed to the Arkansas Board of Health s rules and regulations for emergency medical services, which says under section 3-B-1 that A licensee under this act shall transport any patient to the care facility of the patient s choice within the service area of the ambulance. In times of disaster, all rules are out the window, Starnes said. But we can t routinely transport a patient from Eudora to Oak Grove, La. Louisiana doesn t like it, because we re not licensed to run an ambulance in their area. Arkansas doesn t like it, because their rules say we have to bring patients to the local hospital in our service area. Chicot County Judge Fred Zieman has scheduled a meeting for December with all of the Chicot County communities to discuss issues related to ambulance service.

We re all bent out of shape on this ambulance issue, he said.