The Alton City Commission approved an $8,000 per month contract with Med-Care EMS on Tuesday to handle 911 calls within city limits.
Med-Care EMS, a privately owned ambulance company, replaced Palmview EMS, which had served Alton without charge. During the past six months, however, competition for paramedics left Palmview scrambling to staff ambulances.
“Frankly, they needed to make sure they could provide service in Palmview,” said Alton City Manager Jeff Underwood.
The Alton City Commission approved a three-year contract with Palmview in March 2019. Under the contract, Palmview agreed to share any profits with Alton.
“The City of Alton shall receive fifty percent (50.0%) of collected EMS surplus revenues on responses conducted by the assigned ambulance in Alton, once the City of Palmview has covered all of their necessary expenses such as administrative and all operating costs,” according to the contract. “These revenues shall be paid yearly in September.”
At the time, Med-Care EMS competed with Hidalgo County EMS, another privately owned ambulance company, for contracts. They frequently offered to provide ambulance service to local governments without charge.
In October 2019, though, Hidalgo County EMS declared bankruptcy. After struggling through the pandemic, Hidalgo County EMS shut down in May 2021.
The city of Pharr purchased Hidalgo County EMS ambulances during a bankruptcy sale.
To staff them, Pharr went on a hiring spree. Palmview struggled to compete.
“Given that Pharr expanded so aggressively, it kind of changed the math for paramedics,” said Palmview City Manager Michael Leo.
Palmview struggled to keep paramedics on the payroll.
“We’re just getting poached,” said Palmview Human Resources Director Gerardo “Jerry” Villarreal. “That’s the thing.”
Faced with a shortage of paramedics, Palmview made the difficult decision to drop Alton.
Palmview provided Alton with a termination notice on Nov. 9.
“We hope this causes no inconvenience to the City of Alton,” according to a letter Leo wrote to Underwood. “Please know the City of Palmview will continue to serve the City of Alton throughout this transition. If for whatever reason the City of Alton would like to accelerate the transition, we are amenable to such.”
Palmview contacted Alton again on Nov. 30.
“The Palmview City Manager and Fire Chief indicated to Alton staff that due to personnel issues they would need to sever services as of December 14, 2021,” according to information reviewed by the Alton City Commission. “Med-Care has agreed to step in on a temporary basis until a permanent solution is found for EMS in Alton.”
Underwood said he understood the situation Palmview faced.
“It’s a tough business,” Underwood said. “There’s no doubt about it.”
Alton had to find a replacement for Palmview EMS — and fast. Alton also had to pay Med-Care EMS a significant monthly subsidy, which reflects the current market for ambulance service.
“It was a little bit of a scramble here at the end,” Underwood said.