OREGON – Oregon’s new ambulance service was in business only about 20 minutes Tuesday when its first call came in.
Around 8:20 a.m., the crew from ATS Medical Services of Loves Park responded with Oregon firefighters to a small, quickly extinguished fire at Oregon Rehabilitation and Healthcare.
A few minutes earlier, Oregon Fire Chief Don Heller announced that ATS and fire protection district officials had signed “a short-term, 10-month contract for ambulance service until our referendum.”
The ATS ambulance and a full-time crew will be based at the Oregon Fire Station and answer calls from there, said Andy Schultz, CEO and owner of ATS.
The nonprofit Oregon Ambulance Service closed its doors June 17 for financial reasons, leaving Oregon-area residents without a local ambulance service. Since then, calls have been handled by the ambulance services of neighboring fire departments.
“We are taxing out our neighboring ambulance services,” Heller said. “We’re running them to death.”
The Oregon Fire Protection District is one of very few fire districts without a tax-supported ambulance service.
Heller said fire district officials would place a referendum on the ballot in November or April to tax for an ambulance service.
“We hope that everyone supports us and votes yes for an ambulance service,” he said. “Otherwise, we will have no ambulance.”
State law does not allow the fire district to provide ambulance services using tax dollars levied for fire protection.
ATS will bill anyone it transports, Schultz said.
Because Medicare and Medicaid pay a limited amount for qualified patients, the fire district will cover any shortfall. That amount will vary from month to month, Heller said.
The fire district’s attorney advised the board that the district could pick up that cost because of the circumstances.
“We are able to do it for the short term due to the emergency,” Heller said. “Ethically and morally, we need to provide the service.”