Leader Blues

Saturday, October 20, 2007

TOP STORY >>Cabot not eager to aid MEMS

IN SHORT: City council holds special meeting to consider a request by ambulance service of a $50,000 a year subsidy, which it needs to meet Medicare cuts and rising costs.

By JOAN MCCOY
Leader staff writer

Officials in Cabot have been satisfied with MEMS, which has provided ambulance service there for more than two years, but they are not completely agreeable to paying the $50,000 a year subsidy MEMS will require beginning in January.

When MEMS (Metropolitan Emergency Medical Service) moved into the city in January 2005, it did so at the request of a city council that had become disillusioned with two other companies in a matter of months.

However, Cabot Mayor Eddie Joe Williams pointed out during a special council meeting Thursday night that the cityís contract with MEMS, ending in June, says nothing about a subsidy. And besides for its first six months in Cabot the city paid MEMS an $8,000 a month subsidy, the only one ever before collected by the service since it was started by the city of Little Rock 23 years ago.

Williams made his case to Jon Swanson, MEMS executive director, and plans to repeat it during the Tuesday meeting of the MEMS board.

But in the meantime, Alderman Eddie Cook has called a special meeting of the budget and personnel committee for 6:30 p.m., Monday to look at ways to redistribute the revenue from the city property tax to pay the subsidy without taking additional money from the general fund.

Swanson made it clear that someone must subsidize Cabot, where the cost of providing ambulance service exceeds the revenue and that someone canít be MEMS. State law wonít allow it, he said. MEMS is a department of the city of Little Rock and as such is not allowed to give its service away.

He also told the council essentially that MEMS can provide the service at a lower cost than the city can because the record keeping mechanism is already in place and that Cabotís part is only about $33,000 a year.

Cuts in Medicare are the root of the request for a subsidy, Swanson said.

The cuts were phased in over four years beginning in 2002 and fully implemented in 2006. To compensate for the loss in revenue MEMS has lowered operational costs by such actions as increasing workloads of paramedics and EMTs, lowering insurance premiums by improving driving records of employees and using only EMTs for non-emergency transports.

But those cuts have not made up for the losses and those service areas that are not breaking even will have to pay a subsidy, Swanson said.

The projected cost of providing ambulance service in Cabot for 2008 is $665,022, Swanson told the council. The projected revenue is $614,403.

Swanson spoke to the mayor and council about ways to narrow the gap between the cost and the revenue.
Selling MEMS memberships at a cost of $60 to $80 a year would help, he said. So would eliminating or cutting the cost of housing for MEMS employees which runs about $17,000 a year.

Swanson said MEMS purchased a FEMA trailer to house the paramedics and emergency medical technicians who work in Lonoke, where the subsidy will be even higher at $87,000 a year.

The MEMS board voted Sept. 25 to charge subsidies, beginning in January, in the areas where the service operates at a loss.
In addition to Cabot and Lonoke, the MEMS board voted to charge Grant County $179,000, Sherwood $28,000 and Maumelle $63,000.