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Is two better than one?: City Council undecided on 2nd ambulance permit

The Port Arthur City Council has delayed a decision to permit a Houston ambulance company to operate in this city, pending a “workshop” to determine the city’s course.

Viking Enterprises Inc., doing business as City Ambulance, asked to become the second ambulance company permitted to operate in this city, alongside Acadian Ambulance, which has been operating alone for several years.

Fire Chief Larry Richard recommended that council members, meeting Tuesday at City Hall, reject the request based on City Ambulance’s history of never doing 911 emergency calls. He said Port Arthur’s city ordinance mandates that companies must answer both 911 calls and do patient transfers, which is the more lucrative portion of the ambulance business.

Richard said Acadian — a Lafayette, Louisiana-based company that operates in Louisiana and in Texas — routinely meets the city’s standard for answering emergency calls within 8 minutes. He said it would be harder for the city to manage multiple companies and that if two companies operated, City Ambulance would have to answer emergency calls on a rotating basis.

District 4 Councilman Harold Doucet said some citizens have complained about long response times from Acadian, especially for transfer of patients, and questioned if the city, by allowing only one ambulance company to operate, was denying citizens choices in services.

“We are putting all our eggs in one basket,” he said. “Should one person own all of the gas stations in Port Arthur?”

Richard, though, suggested that providing 911 care differs from medical transfers, in which City Ambulance specializes. He said 911 calls are not “income generators,” unlike the more profitable transfer side of the business. He said City Ambulance has never done that type of work and that rather than have choices, the patient, under a two-company or multi-company system, would wind up with whatever company was on the rotation to answer the next call.

Dean Harryman, director of operations for City Ambulance, said he has seven years of experience in 911 calls in the Galveston area and most of his hires — his company operates in Houston, College Station, Huntsville, Dallas, San Antonio, Rockport and Round Rock — have at least two years of 911 experience.

He said several emergency centers and nursing homes in the area have asked him to set up shop in Port Arthur. City Ambulance tried unsuccessfully for a permit in Beaumont last year.

Acadian spokeswoman Mary Ann Reid said she hopes the City Council will call on Acadian to attend their workshop. She said Acadian has provided services to indigent patients, staffs sporting events and has otherwise contributed to the community for years.

“The city doesn’t pay us for that,” she said. “We are not subsidized.”

Acadian Operations Supervisor Frances Garza said Acadian worked tirelessly through Hurricane and Tropical Storm Harvey because of its “personal investment” in the community.

Mayor Derrick Freeman said no time was set Tuesday for the workshop, but he said it would take place in the form of a special meeting before the City Council’s next meeting, scheduled for Oct. 8.