ETMC to cut ambulance service in five East Texas towns

Published on Thursday, 20 June 2013 18:23 - Written by BY COSHANDRA DILLARD cdillard@tylerpaper.com

East Texas Medical Center’s EMS will cut its ambulance services in five East Texas towns, officials confirmed Thursday.

Effective July 15, ETMC EMS will no longer be stationing “dedicated” ambulances in Gladewater, Frankston, Van, Alto and Wells.

Those towns have a combined population of more than 12,000.

Neal Franklin, general manager of ETMC EMS, said the decision was due to a drop in reimbursement from Medicare, Medicaid and private insurance.

He noted that the health system is reducing its spending by 5 to 7 percent this year.

“These are difficult decisions to make but necessary to allow us to continue providing the core services needed by our community at large,” Franklin said.

Last fall, officials learned that ETMC's Tyler hospital and seven of its rural hospitals would be hit with a reduction in Medicare reimbursement rates.

They are among about two-thirds of all hospitals in the country that face penalties up to 1 percent of its Medicare reimbursements for fiscal year 2013.

ETMC Tyler will see a reduction of 0.13 percent. The penalty is part of a provision in the Affordable Care Act, which aims to promote improvements in hospital readmission rates. Health officials said last fall that it would cost the hospital $660,000 this year.

In the past, the organization has not charged most rural communities for ambulance service, but Franklin said they would now need to pay a subsidy to continue service.

“We finally realized that we were in a place that we just couldn’t do that,” he said. “The hospital system was covering our losses in a lot of these areas … The call volume is not high enough to make it feasible to continue servicing the way it is.”

To help these communities transition, Franklin said he has been in talks with city officials and other EMS companies for alternatives.

ETMC EMS is the largest rural ambulance service provider in the state, with about 116 ambulances and three helicopters, and covering 17,000 square miles in 17 East Texas counties.