BOGATA — Unless Red River County can come up with enough funding, the ambulance service, LifeNet, plans to pull out of the county at the end of the year.
LifeNet is a private company that has had a contract in Red River County for 30 years now. At Monday’s commissioners meeting, Judge L.D. Williamson said the county had to have an ambulance service.
“They have been losing money steadily here,” he said. “They are asking us now for $144,000 in order to stay.”
At Monday night’s Bogata City Council meeting, Mayor Pro Tem Larry Hinsley broke the news to the crowd, then immediately turned attention to different ways to possibly raise money, from a fee on water bills to contacting state representatives for help. Police Chief David Short said the ambulance service has been subsidized by surrounding counties like Bowie County for years.
“They told us this 8 years ago, … ‘hey, we don’t know how long we can stay here,’” he said.
The company has received no extra help from any of the taxing entities in Red River County until three years ago when Clarksville included a subscription service on its water bill, LifeNet CEO David Baumgardner said.
“In the beginning, that earned us $50,000,” he said, adding it helped a lot. “In order to make the service work, you have to make enough ambulance calls.”
With the hospital closing, that dropped the number of monthly calls from 130 to 100, he said, and a lot of those were simply wellness checks without actually running the patient anywhere.
Plus, a good portion of Red River County is either uninsured, underinsured or on Medicare or Medicaid, and the company is no longer allowed to balance bill for the service for those on government aid. A balance bill means to bill the client for the remaining amount of the fee. Medicare has also capped ambulance service reimbursement at $500.
“People say we have a monopoly, like cable, but we’re not cable. The cable company will cut you off, we won’t,” Baumgardner said. “We go out to every call, regardless of the ability to pay. You can call us 100 times if you need to.”
It’s tough all around, he added. The service has been in Red River County for many years and is part of the community. They run one 24-hour ambulance and one 12-hour ambulance, and it’s the only emergency medical service in the area.
One of the suggestions the company put forth is to have the county pay a subscription service for the households in Red River County. Just $6 per household would cover it.
“We need to come to some kind of solution,” Baumgardner said.
Part of what makes the service so valuable is that a fully licensed paramedic is on every ride. In the levels of emergency medical care available on an ambulance, a paramedic ranks above an emergency medical services technician, allowing for more medical care on the ride, which can be critical if there’s a long trip to the hospital.
Williamson said the county was also considering creating a special property taxing district specifically for emergency services that could potentially go up to 10 cents per $100 valuation.
“We could raise taxes to pay for that alone, but that might put us in a rollback situation,” he said. “There are choices out there that we’re going to have to make.”