Texas city disputes ‘inaccuracies’ about its new EMS provider
McAllen’s contract with San Antonio-based Lone Star Ambulance takes effect on Feb. 23 after it could not reach a deal with Med-Care
By Berenice Garcia
McAllen, Texas — The city of McAllen is trying to set the record straight about its new contractor for emergency medical services that will begin operating in the city next month.
McAllen issued a fact sheet on Friday to dispel “inaccuracies” about emergency medical services in the city.
The city assured residents that their new EMS provider, San Antonio-based Lone Star Ambulance, had relevant experience to provide emergency services; that emergency medical services would not be interrupted; and that the city’s contract with the company was legal.
“They have the same certifications by the state of Texas that Med-Care does,” said McAllen City Manager Roel “Roy” Rodriguez. “We’ve got an executed contract. That’s all they need to operate in our city.”
The Lone Star contract goes into effect on Feb. 23 for a term of three years.
For their services, the city agreed to pay Lone Star a subsidy of $300,000, of which $150,000 will be paid upon the execution of the agreement, and then the city will make five consecutive monthly payments of $30,000 for start-up operations, according to the contract.
After that, the city will then pay a $150,000 subsidy per quarter; however, every six months, the two parties will review Lone Star’s financial records to determine whether the quarterly subsidy should be eliminated.
The company will operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week and will be required to have at least four mobile intensive care units (MICU) and four advanced life support (ALS) ambulances within McAllen.
They are required to respond to the scene of an emergency within 8 minutes for 90% of their Priority 1 calls and within 12 minutes for 95% of the Priority 2 calls.
In its fact sheet, the city addressed an allegation that Lone Star would cause a loss of local jobs but the city assured Lone Star would be hiring locally.
While that was not explicitly required in the contract, Rodriguez said it was just typical of ambulance companies to do that.
He pointed to the city of Pharr which started its own ambulance service and hired staff who were previously employed with Med-Care.
“You’re providing services to the same people and the same number of people so when one company does less work, another does more work,” Rodriguez said. “Number one, it’s not required. Number two, it’s just typical.”
The city’s contract with Lone Star comes after the city ended its decades-long relationship with Med-Care EMS, a McAllen-based ambulance provider, after the two parties could not reach a subsidy agreement.
For two decades, the city had paid no subsidy to the company but sometime last year, Med-Care approached the city with a request for payment.
Following months of talks and no resolution, an attorney for Med-Care, Reynaldo Ortiz, sent a letter to the city on Jan. 19 offering four subsidy options.
The highest option asked for a $4.9 million annual subsidy for an 8-minute response time and eight MICU units while the lowest asked for a $600,000 annual subsidy for a 15-minute response time and four MICU units.
“In the unlikely event that the City does not want to move forward, please accept this letter as our 30 day-notice to terminate the contract,” Ortiz wrote.
Referring to those four options as unreasonable and unjustified, the city opted to accept the notice of termination and move forward in finding a replacement EMS provider.
The city also pointed out in their fact sheet that Med-Care failed to meet the standard of an 8-minute response time set in their contract.
Ronnie Ontiveros, president and CEO of Med-Care, said those standards were set before the COVID-19 pandemic and they could not have foreseen those circumstances.
Ontiveros added that construction changes also contributed to delays.
She said the request for a subsidy from the city was prompted by rising costs in fuel, wages and insurance.
While they did not receive a subsidy from the city, the company made money by billing patients through their insurance providers.
However, Ontiveros said that for every 10 calls, they only received payment for three because many patients were uninsured.
She added that in 2021, they were in the negative by $1.9 million.
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