July 04, 2001 11:00 pm

By Alice Perry Linker

Observer Staff Writer

La Grandes city manager has visions of a city-run ambulance, and he believes the talks between the city and the hospital will lead to a successful transition from private to public.

Wes Hare has been thinking about a city-owned and operated ambulance service for some time. He has frequently said that the City of Oakridge, where he was city manager before coming to La Grande, runs a successful ambulance.

The ambulances that serve La Grande and Union County are owned and operated by Grande Ronde Hospital. A study of transferring service from the hospital to the city began in May with talks between the city and the hospital.

I believe were moving toward a recommendation to transfer service from the hospital to the city, but thats my opinion, Hare said. Im not speaking on behalf of the hospital.

Hospital President Jim Mattes is more cautious in his approach to the transition. He said this week he is not ready to predict whether the hospital will end ambulance service.

The city is ahead of the hospital, he said. They have less to wrestle with than we do.

Mattes said that among other issues, the hospital must consider personnel changes and what to do with the new building that houses the ambulances.

Wed like to have a full and complete study of all the issues and have the financial data to look at, he said.

Mattes said he expects the data to be collected some time in August.

La Grande Fire Chief Bruce Weimer has begun a preliminary organization of ambulance operations, although he has not hired any new people. The fire department would administer ambulance service.

Weimer believes personnel costs would decrease under the citys administration.

We wont need to call people in, he said. Theyll be on staff.

Weimer said all firefighters have been trained as basic emergency medical technicians. Two paramedics, who require more training than EMTs, are on staff and he is considering hiring three more.

The city is ready and able and willing to take over this service, Weimer said. I think it would be positive for the community and county as a whole.

Weimer and Hare said they have not made any formal recommendations to the city council.

For the hospital, Mattes said some issues have not been resolved.

I think there are pros and cons. I dont think weve sorted through the issues so that we can completely address the concerns that have been raised and whether the advantages are real, he said.

We need the data to support that before we can reach a


The issues of continuity, quality and level of service are joint. Both Mattes and Hare have said that quality and level of service will not be compromised.

Hare has said several times that under the citys operation, the ambulance will cover the entire county. He does not foresee additional charges for out-of-city residents, and he believes the city can operate the service without losing money.

We do not believe there is any reason for the in-city residents to subsidize the service, he said.

Hare said that nearly 70 percent of the fire department runs are for medical calls. On medical calls considered potentially

life-threatening, both the ambulance and the fire department respond.

The process of moving the ambulance service from the hospital to the city requires county involvement. Should the hospital decide to give up ambulance service, it must notify the countys ambulance advisory committee. If the city wants to take on ambulance service, it must apply to the county, which makes the final decision.

Talks between the hospital and city will continue at 1:30 p.m. July 10 with a meeting in City Hall.