The Mission City Council is weighing a proposal to lease ambulances and create a city-run EMS service.
Emergency Management Coordinator James Cardoza briefed the City Council on the proposal during a workshop Monday afternoon. Fire Chief Gilbert Sanchez said he supported the idea.
“It’s time for our city to go into this service,” Sanchez said. “It’s time for the transition to provide medical services to our citizens.”
For years, two privately owned ambulance companies responded to 911 calls in Mission.
Med-Care EMS, the city’s primary ambulance provider, responded to 6,000 to 7,000 calls per year. Hidalgo County EMS, the city’s backup ambulance provider, responded to fewer than 100 calls per year.
Both companies had financial problems.
Med-Care filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in November 2018. The company quickly put together a reorganization plan and emerged from bankruptcy in April 2019.
Hidalgo County EMS followed in October 2019. It spent more than a year in bankruptcy and shut down in May, which left Mission without a backup provider.
The shutdown of Hidalgo County EMS prompted Mission to re-examine options for ambulance service.
“We do need a secondary provider,” said City Councilwoman Norie Gonzalez Garza. “And that’s what kind of brought this to the forefront, is that: We need to have someone that we can call on a secondary basis that we can count on.”
The Mission Fire Department already employs more than three dozen firefighters with varying degrees of medical training, including three paramedics.
Under the proposal, Mission would become the new backup ambulance provider.
The city would focus on hiring and training for the first three years.
Hiring would start during the second year with six new employees. The city would hire another six employees during the third year.
Mission would also lease an ambulance. It would respond to 911 calls whenever Med-Care isn’t available.
During the next three years, Mission would lease more ambulances, hire more employees and gradually phase out Med-Care.
Several firefighters spoke in support of the proposal.
“This is a long time coming. Unfortunately in the Valley we’re 10, 15 years behind the trend,” said fire Lt. Robert Lopez. “You go anywhere else north of the Valley, it’s all Fire-EMS. It’s the best way to provide the best service to our citizens.”
Pharr, Palmview, Weslaco and Mercedes already operate their own ambulances.
“Nothing against Med-Care. They have great medics. We get along great with them,” Lopez said. “But they’re getting inundated. Since Hidalgo County went out, it’s been a lot more burden on them.”
Ronnie Ontiveros, the owner of Med-Care, emphasized that her company served the city without charge.
“We provide quality care for the public at zero cost,” Ontiveros said, adding that Med-Care treats everyone regardless of the patient’s ability to pay.
Med-Care also serves the city of McAllen and the city of Edinburg, which allows the company to deploy additional resources for mass casualty events. In 2018, when a robbery at La Plaza Mall was initially reported as a shooting, Med-Care was able to send 16 ambulances in less than three minutes.
“Those resources, at a local level, are very important,” Ontiveros said.
Members of the City Council had questions about the proposal.
Mayor Armando “Doc” O’caña had concerns about the start-up costs. Gonzalez Garza asked for information about projected revenue. And City Councilman Ruben Plata said he wanted solid numbers.
They agreed to hold a follow-up workshop in August to discuss the proposal further.