Texas city ends decades-long relationship with ambulance company
Med-Care EMS asked McAllen leaders to choose one of four subsidy options because of cost increases
McALLEN, Texas — McAllen is severing ties with Med-Care EMS after the ambulance company requested hundreds of thousands to millions annually to continue its service throughout the city.
During a meeting Monday, the city commissioners decided to end their contract with Med-Care in response to the company's ultimatum to the city to either agree on one of four options to subsidize their ambulance service or terminate the contract.
"They had a proposal with different pricing depending on the elements that we wanted in the contract which is different than we have now," said City Manager Roel "Roel" Rodriguez. "And we felt that those dollars associated with those elements were unreasonable."
In a Jan. 19 letter to City Attorney Isaac Tawil obtained by The Monitor, an attorney representing Med-Care listed four options which he said were "the only options:"
- A $4.9 million annual subsidy for an 8-minute response time with eight mobile intensive care units (MICU), also requiring the city to have and share with Med-Care a public safety answering point, or call center.
- A $3.6 million annual subsidy for the current status of an under 10-minute response time with six MICUs.
- A $1.44 million annual subsidy for four MICUs and four advanced life support/basic life support units and a response time of 10 minutes or less.
- A $600,000 annual subsidy with four MICUs and a response time of less than 15 minutes.
The city currently does not pay any subsidy for EMS.
"It was zero subsidy for over two decades and their position was things have changed," Rodriguez said. "We understand that, that things change, but we still have a contract that says that there's a zero subsidy and so, even with that, we were willing to try to negotiate something and amend it now, even before it expired, and we could just not reach an agreement."
Mayor Javier Villalobos lamented the impasse but said the commissioners did what they believed was best for residents.
"Unfortunately, we were not able to meet at the place that both of us agreed, both the city and Med-Care," Villalobos said. "So unfortunately, well, we have to act on what we believe is in the best interest of our residents and that's what the commission did."
Veronica L. Ontiveros, president and CEO of Med-Care, said the request for subsidies from the city was prompted by rising costs.
"Fuel has increased, wages have increased, insurance has increased, liability is always increasing, construction has caused challenges," Ontiveros said.
She added that responding to the Rio Grande Valley Humanitarian Respite Center in McAllen where immigrants with no insurance are temporarily housed also caused challenges.
"Their volunteers are told to dial 911 so it does affect the 911 system," Ontiveros said. "Running a business for free is always a challenge and especially with prices (because of) inflation, it cannot be done."
She noted that for every 10 calls they service, they only receive payment for three because seven of those calls are not insured.
"It creates a very heavy burden on the 911 provider," Ontiveros said. "We respond to 80,000 calls per year."
The city also issued a statement Tuesday, adding that the decision to accept MedCare EMS' notification to terminate the contract was made "only after careful consideration and exhaustion of all reasonable options."
The city also assured residents that emergency medical services would continue, stating it had made arrangements to provide uninterrupted medical services.
"We definitely wouldn't act without making sure that our residents were covered," Villalobos said of the city's arrangements with a new EMS provider.
Rodriguez said he had not yet executed the contract with the new provider and would wait until doing so to disclose the name of the company.
"Well, we hope there isn't any changes that (residents) should expect, that's our goal," Rodriguez said of the future of EMS services. "We've got 30 days to get the new company in and we feel very comfortable that that's plenty of time."
Ontiveros said Med-Care was willing to keep negotiating with McAllen if the city was open to it as well. She added that, as a McAllen native with a company headquartered in the city, she was not averse to working with them in the future.
"This is a Hispanic woman-owned business and it's not considered a small corporation, it's considered a large corporation," Ontiveros said. "We're headquartered in McAllen so no one will have the resources that we have, that we provide the city of McAllen."
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