Decatur (AL) Morgan Hospital Applies for Ambulance Service Permit

The photo shows the front of a white ambulance with the word
File Photo

Bayne Hughes

The Decatur Daily, Ala.


If Decatur Morgan Hospital’s application is approved, the city will have two ambulance services for the first time in seven years.

The hospital applied for the certificate of public necessity and convenience (CPNC) that would authorize it to operate ambulances in the city and its police jurisdiction.

The owner of First Response Ambulance Service, which has had a monopoly on ambulance service in Decatur since 2014, said he hopes the city will reject what he views as unnecessary competition. The City Council will make the decision on whether to grant the certificate.

“If they approve the hospital’s CPNC, they’re doing a huge disservice to the people,” First Response’s David Childers said.

Decatur Morgan has already begun building up its ambulance fleet and taking 911 calls in anticipation of its application being approved.

Tyler Stinson, the hospital’s director of EMS, on Tuesday said the hospital has purchased seven new ambulances and has several more on the way. Decatur Morgan CEO Kelli Powers, who was unavailable Tuesday, last month said the hospital is working toward a fleet of 10 to 13 ambulances and hiring medical personnel to staff them.

Morgan County 911 Director Jeanie Pharis said dispatchers frequently call the hospital to respond to emergency calls because both First Response and the county’s ambulance service, Lifeguard, are rolling over a high number of calls.

Stinson said Decatur Morgan is already running one ambulance 24 hours a day and two ambulances 12 hours a day. Hospital ambulances ran 138 calls dispatched from 911 between July 1 and Monday, he said.

“We’re running backup to First Response and Lifeguard,” Stinson said. “Sometimes we run one (emergency call) a day, and we run three or four some days.”

City Clerk Stephanie Simon said the city received the hospital’s application Aug. 17.

Fire Chief Tracy Thornton said the application was passed from the Legal Department to the Police Department for vetting. When the vetting is complete, Thornton said the application will go to the Ambulance Regulatory Board. The ARB will then vote on whether to recommend it for final approval by the City Council.

Thornton, the ARB chairperson, did not know if the vetting would be complete in time for the next meeting, scheduled for Sept. 14.

Stinson said the date on which the hospital service begins running a full-scale ambulance service depends on the timing of the City Council’s approval.

“We are preparing for when that occurs,” Stinson said.

Childers contends the city’s “public safety will erode with two ambulance services competing” for patients, and that his ambulance service “is meeting the city’s (response-time) requirements.”

Powers said in August that the hospital’s interest in starting an ambulance service was solely due to the inadequacy of First Response.

City officials have argued for years with First Response officials about response times, vehicles and staffing.

Decatur Morgan Hospital is part of the Huntsville Hospital System. Decatur Morgan’s debut in the ambulance business was in February, when Decatur’s City Council voted to allow it to use ambulances on a temporary basis for transports between various entities controlled by the Huntsville Hospital System because the volume of COVID-19 patients was causing backups.

Childers protested the council’s action and has claimed it was an effort by Decatur Morgan Hospital to make inroads on his monopoly. The council has rejected his requests to end the temporary authorization.

Morgan County 911 began early this summer requesting that Decatur Morgan Hospital ambulances respond to emergency calls that neither First Response nor Lifeguard could handle.

This would not be the first time the city had competing ambulance services.

First Response received its CPNC in 2012, placing it in competition with another CPNC holder, Decatur Emergency Medical Services Inc. The two competed until DEMSI filed for bankruptcy in 2014.

During this period, Morgan County 911 assigned calls based on which ambulance service was closest to the call by using GPS trackers in the ambulances.

Pharis on Tuesday said most cities use this system because the patient benefits from a quicker response, but it will be up to the City Council how it wants ambulance services selected for calls.

She said one problem arises when the two competitors have ambulances in the same location or they’re exactly the same distance from a call. Pharis said the city would then likely choose to alternate these calls between the two companies.

— or 256-340-2432. Twitter @DD_BayneHughes.

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