March 20, 2002 11:00 pm

By Ray Linker

Observer Staff Writer

Ambulance fees have not gone up since the La Grande Fire Department has taken over the service.

For the most part, the fee structure is identical to what the (Grande Ronde) hospital was charging before we took over, said Fire Chief Bruce Weimer.

Weimer said that during the period in which the city was considering taking over the ambulance and emergency medical service, the fire department did a survey across the state to see what other cities were charging for ambulance services.

Were up in the top quarter with fees. But this is a service that has to be paid for with the fees, Weimer said.

He presented a list of suggested fees to the city council, which approved the amounts to be charged, ranging from $600 to $900 per trip.

My recommendation is that for the first year at least, until we get some history, that we stay with this list, Weimer said. Our budget for the coming year is based on these recommendations.

City Manager Wes Hare doesnt see how the city can reduce the fees any more than what the hospital charged. The service, which provides coverage to all of Union County, must be self-sustaining, he said.

The hospital gave up the ambulance service largely for economic reasons. And for Medicare patients, we have to accept whatever Medicare says our services are worth. That is about half of the listed fees.

Weimer said it was kind of a scramble to get ready to take over the service Feb. 1, but now things are going really well.

More than once, he said, the department has had three ambulances making runs at the same time. One day, there were four on calls at the same time, he said. The

most ambulance calls on a single day have been 15.

As of March 13, we have had 200 calls since taking over the service. We are averaging five calls a day, Weimer said.

The city charges an all-inclusive base rate for advanced life support transport services of $900 and $600 for a basic life support transport.Weimer describes ALS as providing patient care at a level requiring the services of a paramedic. BLS service would require an emergency medical technician with skills in basic life preserving, such as providing CPR or treating a broken leg, for example.

There are no additional charges for supplies, medications or for equipment used, Weimer said. Under this plan, insurance companies are more likely to pay for most of the bill, reducing the impact on patients.

There are other charges for when a patient is treated but does not need or refuses transport to a hospital.

Additional charges may be billed in cases where there are multiple patients or when an extra attendant is required.

A fee of $75 plus $15.75 a mile is charged for non-emergency transports and the return of patients from the hospital.