May 22, 2001 11:00 pm

By Alice Perry Linker

Observer Staff Writer

The first steps in moving ambulance service from Grande Ronde Hospital to the City of La Grande were taken Tuesday with a meeting of city and hospital officials.

Talks are expected to continue throughout the summer. During the next meeting on June 11, representatives of rural communities, Union County elected officials and members of the countys ambulance advisory committee will be invited to discuss concerns and issues involved in the transition.

The city and hospital announced May 10 that they would begin negotiations. City Manager Wes Hare and hospital CEO Jim Mattes said they expect the talks to end as early as September, but they could continue longer. November is the earliest date that the city could take over the


Hare said the city must carefully examine revenues and expenditures before making a decision to assume the ambulance service. He also said that the city will not reduce services.

Hospital calculations show that the ambulance service operated in the black until 2001, when operations showed a loss of $44,627. This years losses are budgeted at $144,362. The ambulance service is projected to collect $537,422 and spend $681,784 during the coming year.

Mattes attributed much of the revenue loss to changes in the Medicare reimbursement formula. According to the hospitals calculations, Medicare patients generated $610,742, or 57.12 percent of the revenue, in 2001.

Hospital statistics show that nearly 48 percent of the ambulance service calls come inside the city, and about 28 percent from county residents. The hospital also provides service to airports and other hospitals and offers standby to city and county fire departments.

The hospital hires six full-time paramedics and has about 10 casual paramedics and EMTs who serve on call.

Fire Chief Bruce Weimer said Tuesday he has not yet organized a staffing plan for ambulance service. An advanced life support ambulance must be staffed by full paramedics.

The hospitals Ambulance Service Data report shows physical assets valued at $397,467, including three ambulances with a total value of $145,792.

Mattes said the hospital will keep some items, but will donate the remainder to the city. In exchange, he said the hospital wants a guarantee that the city will provide back-up ambulance transport and other help during the actual transition.

The La Grande City Council and the hospitals board of directors will make the final decision on the transfer. Union County governs ambulance service and must be involved in the decision, Mattes said.

Mattes said a 60-day notice is required to begin the process of moving the service.

The city has hired a contractor to build a new fire hall on Cove Avenue, but construction is not expected to be completed until next year. The new structure will have garage space for the ambulances.

We never have envisioned that wed wait for the new facility, Hare said.

Hare and Fire Chief Bruce Weimer said they expect to have sufficient short-term garage space for the ambulances.