October 18, 2001 11:00 pm
TALKING AMBULANCE SERVICE: Fire Chief Bruce Weimer, right, responds to questions at Thursday's public hearing as hospital CEO Jim Mattes looks on. (The Observer/KELLY WARD).
TALKING AMBULANCE SERVICE: Fire Chief Bruce Weimer, right, responds to questions at Thursday's public hearing as hospital CEO Jim Mattes looks on. (The Observer/KELLY WARD).

By Ray Linker

Observer Staff Writer

Grande Ronde Hospital and City of La Grande officials assured an audience of 50 people at a public hearing Thursday night that ambulance service would retain a high level of service if transferred from the hospital to the fire department.

Grande Ronde Hospital wants to relinquish the service because it is losing money under the way the hospital is reimbursed. Officials estimate that the hospital will lose $144,362 for the fiscal year ending April 30, 2002, if it continues to operate the service.

The city believes it can make a profit of about $200,000 a year by serving the entire county with ambulance service.

If the fire department takes over, the service will remain at the current Advanced Life Support Level, officials said.

We dont want the quality of service to slip, said Jim Mattes, the hospitals CEO and president. Our paramedics are second to none. At the hospital, they gain experience that doesnt happen at any other hospital in the state. Our paramedics are pushed to do things in the field due to their relationship with our physicians.

That will continue, Fire Chief Bruce Weimer told the audience at the Blue Mountain Conference Center.

The hospital will still have a lot to say about the quality of service.

Under the fire department proposal, a physician adviser will continue to maintain ultimate responsibility for emergency medical technicians working at the hospital.

Weimer said that with the donation of the hospitals ambulances to the city, we can provide better service throughout the county.

He said he felt pretty confident the $200,000 revenue figure was close to what the city could expect, based on projections made by the billing service which the city will use.

There was little opposition to the changeover from the members of the audience who spoke or asked questions.

Janet Wright, hospital vice president for patient care, said the hospital would continue to have paramedics on duty.

Things will be slightly different, but we want to continue the paramedic-patient relationship at the hospital, she said.

She said the central location of the new fire department building on Cove Avenue would enhance the response time for ambulances for the entire county. To take over the service, the city must serve the entire county, under state law.

The proposed shift to the fire department of the service has been discussed since spring. The next action could come Nov. 7 when the hospital board meets. The board must vote to give up ambulance service and must formally give 60 days notice of the decision to Union County, which has the final say about any ambulance provider.

The county would appoint a five-member committee to recommend a replacement ambulance service. The county commissioners will make the final decision. After the hospital relinquishes service, the city would bid to provide service. There could be other bidders, but none have come forth.

Mattes said, Im not sure if the (hospital boards) final decision will come on that date (Nov. 7), but I would hope that the board might decide then.