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READY TO ROLL: Grande Ronde Hospital operates the area's ambulance service. In the next few weeks, the hospital and city will begin talks about the possibility of transferring ambulance service to the city. (Observer file photo).
READY TO ROLL: Grande Ronde Hospital operates the area's ambulance service. In the next few weeks, the hospital and city will begin talks about the possibility of transferring ambulance service to the city. (Observer file photo).

By Alice Perry Linker

Observer Staff Writer

The City of La Grande and the hospital soon will begin to talk about transferring ambulance ownership from the hospital to the city.

During a joint press conference Thursday, City Manager Wes Hare and Grande Ronde Hospital Administrator James Mattes announced that talks will begin within a few weeks, if not sooner.

Both Hare and Mattes stressed that no decision to transfer ownership has been made, and the discussions will be an attempt to determine if the transfer will benefit both the hospital and the city.

Mattes said that the hospital boards decision to participate in the talks was not based on finances.

The board has stressed that the financial situation is not important, Mattes said. The board has directed me to conduct a study but has made no decision.

Should the transfer take place, the ambulance service will remain at its current advanced-life-support level and will be staffed by the citys fire department paramedics.

The fire department sends an engine to all ambulance calls within the city and along certain sections of Interstate 84. The hospital provides ambulance service to the entire county, and Mattes said he would not agree to any reduced service area.

The quality of service is paramount, he said. We need assurance that the quality will be assured and hopefully improved.

Hare agreed about the importance of service and said he envisions an advanced-life-support ambulance serving the entire county.

City Fire Chief Bruce Weimer said that between 70 percent and 80 percent of fire department calls are medical. The fire department has two paramedics on staff, but all firefighters are emergency medical technicians, he said.

To run an ALS ambulance requires two paramedics on duty at all times, he said.

Wed probably need to hire three or four, Weimer said.

Many questions regarding the transfer and its costs remain unanswered, Hare said, including how much the city will pay for the ambulance vehicles and supporting equipment.

The hospital hires six paramedics and has several others on call. Mattes said the hospital does not pay paramedics to be on call but pays only for hours worked.

Recently, the hospital constructed a combination ambulance garage and storage building, but Mattes said the hospital board has not even begun to discuss how the building would be used if ambulance service is transferred.

The proposed city fire station will have space for ambulances, Hare said. The city council will award a contract to build the new station May 16.

Mattes said the hospital owns three ambulances and recovers about 48 cents on $1 for every ambulance run. The hospital has projected the next years ambulance expenses at $682,000. The average cost per transport is about $1,040.

The upcoming fire department budget is projected at about $1 million, Weimer said.

If the city assumes the ambulance service, the rates for transport are expected to be comparable to the hospital rates.

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