County signs new two-year contract with Lifeguard – cost more than doubling

Published 1:28 am Wednesday, May 3, 2023

After months of negotiations culminating in a deal that will cost taxpayers more money, but be tempered with better service for citizens, the Board of Supervisors this week signed a contract with Lifeguard Ambulance Service for the next two years.

One of the most expensive services provided by the county is the ambulance and emergency medical personnel to operate the trucks. Until this month Lifeguard has been operating under a contract that cost the county about $22,900 a month, an agreement that was struck five years ago.

The new contract is $54,500 a month, more than double, but not more than supervisors expected, according to board president Cole Flint. He said that months of talks between the national ambulance company, and investigation into deals that other counties and municipalities have with emergency response crews, made it clear that Panola County was the beneficiary of an advantageous agreement.

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“We found that some counties had gotten away from their contracts and taken proposals they awarded to low bidders and then a year later found themselves renegotiating when the low bidder couldn’t make it work,” Flint said. “It was best for us to work with Lifeguard because we know them and they were trying to help us on our demands, too.”

At the top of the supervisors’ wants for the new contract was a guarantee of more ambulance coverage for the county on a more consistent basis. Under the old contract the county was guaranteed a minimum of 3.5 trucks in Panola at all times.

The new contract gives the county a dedicated 3 trucks at all times, with a response time of less than 21 minutes on 85 percent of the calls over any five day period. Lifeguard wanted a longer response time, pointing out that trips to Chickasaw Hills or Crenshaw can take up to 40 minutes. Supervisors countered that about half of calls come from inside the city limits and should taken much less time.

Supervisors are perpetually concerned about response time, and are aware that dispatchers sometimes send firefighters to calls with instructions that no ambulances are currently available in the city, or that an extended response time can be expected.

LIfeguard authorities are often flustered when called for patient transfers – moving patients from the local hospital or a clinic to another facility in neighboring counties. These transfers sometimes take hours due to conditions beyond Lifeguard’s control.

At the root of the price increase is the fact that a higher-than-average (state and national) percentage of Panola County ambulance customers have no private insurance that can share in the cost of the emergency service.

Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements are not enough to operate a profitable business ambulance company’s say.

Overall, Flint said, citizens of the county can expect a higher standard of service after the Lifeguard negotiations. “They have brought in corporate people, and made a lot of effort to find a way to meet our needs. Ambulance service is a problem everywhere, and Panola County is no different.”