By Conrad Dudderar
Senior Staff Writer
Yukon’s ambulance service is seeking a $175,000 annual subsidy from the City of Yukon.
Pafford Emergency Medical Services (EMS), based on Hope, Arkansas, has been Yukon’s 24-hour-a-day ambulance provider since February when the company purchased Samaritan Emergency Medical Services.
Clay Hobbs, chief operating officer of Pafford EMS Oklahoma, said there was a 30% decrease in call volume starting in March due to COVID-19. Meanwhile, personal protective equipment (PPE) costs have increased.
Through its agreement with the City of Yukon, Pafford has continued to provide two paramedic ambulances with EMS crews to Yukon.
If Yukon city officials approve the $175,000 subsidy, Pafford would collect about $38,000 monthly ($52/hour) from the City of Yukon.
Pafford now collects around $24,000 monthly through a water meter surcharge on utility bills. Customers who “opt into” the membership are charged $3.65 per month; some 2,000 households opt out. The normal ambulance subscription rate is $7.50 per month.
The $3.65 monthly meter charge wouldn’t change if city council members approve the proposed subsidy, Hobbs noted.
“We will continue the membership program so residents here won’t have any out-of-pocket expense for approved ambulance transportation,” he said.
Pafford’s contract with the City of Yukon requires their ambulances to have a maximum 11 minutes response time in Yukon city limits. They’ve been averaging 8.36 minutes.
The company recently bought two new ambulances – with cardiac monitors and ventilators – which will debut in Yukon when a new contract is finalized.
Yukon City Manager Jim Crosby believes the city council needs to sit down and discuss ambulance funding options.
“I do understand there is a need for a subsidy,” Crosby told council members this week. “It is very difficult for us to subsidize a portion of it and have other people being paying on their utility bill.
“I really don’t want to put any more on the utility bill.”
Crosby noted ambulance use has “certainly declined” due to COVID-19 and people have avoided going to hospitals. Membership subscriptions also have dropped, he noted.
“No matter if their service calls drop, they still have to maintain the two ambulances and keep them staffed 24/7, 365,” Yukon’s city manager said.
Yukon needs two ambulances due to the city’s growth and increased demands, Crosby added.
‘WORKED THEIR REARS OFF’
Pafford EMS operates about 175 ambulances and services communities in Oklahoma, Arkansas, Mississippi, Louisiana, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
“My family started this company over 53 years ago,” owner and CEO Jamie Pafford-Gresham said. “I’ve heard the word ‘ambulance’ every day of my life. This is what I do for a living.”
Pafford – which also services El Reno, Piedmont and Union City – is Oklahoma’s second largest ambulance provider (behind Emergency Medical Services Authority) covering nearly 20% of the state’s population.
Ambulance providers across Oklahoma have “not stopped” and have “worked their rears off” over the past eight months during the COVID crisis, Pafford-Gresham said.
“It has just been a steady stream of taking care of business,” she told the city council.
“That’s what we do, and I don’t have a problem with that.
“When I purchased Samaritan, they were in dire straits financially to do something different. And COVID basically put me in the same spot.”
Pafford is still waiting for CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security) Act funds from Congress.
Ambulance services across the U.S. could not close or furlough employees during the current health crisis.
“We never stopped,” Pafford-Gresham explained. “We have a contract to provide so many ambulances in your community.
“Our call volume dropped off (but) I still had to provide those trucks during that period of time.”
Hobbs said Pafford wants to be a “great community partner” with Integris Canadian Valley Hospital in Yukon.
“The hospital here is wonderful,” he said. “If they don’t have a preference, we definitely encourage our patients here to go to the local hospital.”
Pafford’s COO commended the Yukon Fire Department, calling Chief Shawn Vogt a “great leader” while lauding their “wonderful EMTs and paramedics.”
Hobbs said the ambulance is “usually the forgotten one” yet is the “most important leg of the stool” in medical emergencies.
“You definitely want the ambulance there on time, you want them to be professional and you want them to have the equipment they need,” he told council members. “I ask you to think about the ambulance service when you’re doing your budgeting.”