Hidalgo County EMS will station ambulance in Sullivan City to improve response times

Hidalgo County EMS agreed Wednesday to station an ambulance in Sullivan City, which will dramatically reduce emergency response times.

The Sullivan City Commission agreed to pay Hidalgo County EMS a $5,000 annual subsidy. In exchange, Hidalgo County EMS will station an ambulance in Sullivan City from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. every day.

SullivanCityLogoHidalgo County EMS had responded to Sullivan City calls from Peñitas, which took 15 to 30 minutes depending on traffic and construction on U.S. 83.

“I’ve been keeping track of our police records. Dispatch. And asking, as far as the ambulances,” said Mayor Leo Garcia. “Their response times were not too good. Anywhere from 20 to 30 minutes. That’s something that raises a big red flag.”

Two privately owned ambulance providers, Hidalgo County EMS and Med-Care EMS, serve the majority of Hidalgo County residents. The city of Palmview and the city of Weslaco handle ambulance service in-house.

In western Hidalgo County, the city of Mission and the city of La Joya contract with Med-Care EMS. Hidalgo County EMS serves Sullivan City and Peñitas.

Sullivan City became concerned about response times when La Joya switched from Hidalgo County EMS to Med-Care EMS.

Hidalgo County EMS, which had stationed an ambulance at the La Joya Volunteer Fire Department, started dispatching ambulances from Peñitas.

City Commissioner Sylvia Castillo said she had problems with the ambulance service when a client suffered a heart attack. They called 911, but the ambulance didn’t arrive for 26 minutes.

“It was the longest 26 minutes of my life,” Castillo said.

Under the agreement approved Wednesday, the Sullivan City Volunteer Fire Department will host a Hidalgo County EMS ambulance from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Stationing an ambulance in Sullivan City all day would cost about $40,000 per month, said Hidalgo County EMS Chief Administrative Officer Kenneth Ponce. With about 4,100 residents, Sullivan City doesn’t generate enough calls to justify the cost.

The Sullivan City Police Department had 29 medical calls from Oct. 1 to Feb. 27, according to data provided by police Chief Richard Ozuna. That number doesn’t include calls that don’t pass through police dispatch.

Providing service to poor, rural areas with a large number of uninsured people is difficult without government support, Ponce said, adding that Hidalgo County EMS is discussing subsidies with local governments.

The $5,000 subsidy from Sullivan City will help Hidalgo County EMS cover costs, said Paul Vazaldua, who handles business development for the company.

“If they’re Medicare, Medicaid or private insurance eligible, that gets taken care of through them,” Vazaldua said. “But we know we see a lot of indigent, undocumented, uninsurable people. And that’s the purpose of the request for the subsidy.”

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