August 24, 2001 11:00 pm

By Alice Perry Linker

Observer Staff Writer

A decision on transferring ambulance service from Grande Ronde Hospital to the City of La Grande has been delayed until October to allow the hospital time to finishing examining the issues involved in the transfer.

The city and the hospital jointly released a draft report Thursday on the progress of ambulance negotiations, but the report comes without any recommendation. Copies of the report are available at city hall.

The hospital board has the authority to decide whether the hospital will release ambulance service, and Hospital President Jim Mattes said Thursday that a decision is expected in October. If the board votes to give up the service, Union County will be notified, and the city will apply to the county for permission to become the ambulance provider. State law requires the hospital to give a minimum of 60 days notice.

Under the citys plan the

La Grande Fire Department will administer the ambulance to all areas now covered by the hospitals ambulance.

Mattes said that before the board makes a decision, a public meeting will be scheduled.

Some in the medical community have expressed concerns about any possible loss of quality of service should the city take over the ambulance, Mattes said. Hospital representatives will discuss the proposed changes and address the medical communitys concerns during a meeting in September.

We are at mid-stream in the process, Mattes said. Were working hard to keep the report objective.

Fire Chief Bruce Weimer said Thursday that the department has two paramedics on staff and will add four more to staff an ambulance. Weimer said the department will give hospital paramedics priority in hiring. Five paramedics work on the hospital ambulance and about 10 more are casual, on-call employees.

City paramedic salaries are expected to be comparable with hospital salaries, according to the report, but paramedics are expected to work more overtime with the city. Fire department employees, including paramedics, work under a union contract.

Weimer said that he is meeting with the countys rural communities to explain the proposed changes. Under city administration, the rural ambulances in Union and Elgin are expected to lose revenue, because they would be needed less frequently to back up the city ambulance.

The city expressed interest last spring in taking over ambulance service. Mattes said that coincidentally the hospital had begun to examine the costs involved with providing the service, which Mattes said is operating at a loss. He has estimated that the hospital collects only 48 cents of every

$1 spent in ambulance transportation.

City Manager Wes Hare has said the fire department now responds to all medical calls within the city and could operate an ambulance without a loss.