March 27, 2002 11:00 pm

By Gary Fletcher

Observer Staff Writer

ENTERPRISE The Wallowa County Ambulance Service began offering prepaid air and ground ambulance memberships this month in conjunction with Air Life of Oregon.

The program already has attracted 80 subscribers.

Air Life, an air ambulance service based in Bend, now has a fixed-wing aircraft at La Grande. The city of Enterprise is investigating making changes to its airport so the plane could land there, saving the time it takes to transport a patient to the Joseph airport, said Larry Davy, Wallowa Memorial Hospital CEO.

Each membership in Wallowa County can include a couple and their dependent children under age 23. For $45 for either ground or air, or $80 for a both, ambulance bills are covered for a year from the sign-up date. People can enroll at the hospital, online at, or by calling 1-800-353-049 .

Once Air Lifes $5,000 start-up fee is collected through memberships, 65 percent of those fees will go to the Wallowa Valley Health Care District, which operates Wallowa Memorial Hospital.

Other additional medical services for the county are expected to be provided by a new general surgeon and two more family-practice physicians trained in obstetrics. Dr. Renee Grandi is expected to begin seeing patients at Winding Waters Clinic by July. She is in residency at Colville, Wash.

The second family-practice position is being considered by several physicians. In addition, an agreement is close to being reached with a surgeon. The goal is for all three to be in place this summer.

This should make it easier for people to make routine appointments. Last year Enterprise physician and surgeon Dr. Lowell Euhus reduced his practice to half time. His associate, Dr. Scott Siebe, is considering doing the same.

New physicians can also increase

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hospital efficiency and service, and further strengthen the health care districts financial position, officials said.

Wallowa Memorial Hospital continues to improve its financial standing.

The report at the districts monthly board meeting Monday showed an increase in patient use. The $6,110,205 gross patient revenue is ahead of the forecasted budget by $132,753 for March, a 20.9 percent increase, and $23,995 for February, a 3.2 percent increase.

The eight-month patient revenue is above the budgeted projection by $606,682 or 11 percent.

In another item, the board unanimously voted to retain for the next four years the accounting firm of Michael Bell of Spokane for the annual audit and four annual cost reports.

Bells contract for next year is $9,750 for the audit and $9,250 for the cost reports. Bell currently does both for the district. Phillips, a Portland accounting firm, bid $8,500 to do the cost reports, a required Medicare expense analysis. Edison and Company of Enterprise bid $9,500 on the audit. Neither, however, would do both functions.

The board expressed its desire to do business locally if services were the same. Only Bells credentials included abundant experience in health-care auditing, Medicaid-Medicare cost report consultation, and Critical Access Hospital designation. Annual federal reimbursements are expected to increase by $450,000 since the hospital won federal Critical Access designation Sept. 6.