Ambulance district, Mercy ready to partner

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Mercy prepared to take service reins from Cox Thursday

On Thursday at 7 a.m., Mercy Emergency Medical Services and the South Barry County Ambulance District say they will be poised and ready to begin their partnership in providing ambulatory and EMS services to the county.

On Nov. 10, the ambulance district's board accepted a proposal from Mercy Emergency Medical Services to provide EMTs and paramedics at a cost of $0 to the district for a five-year contract. Previously, the district had used CoxHealth to provide EMS services on its ambulances for the last 27 years.

Ken Cieslinski, chairman of the board for the district, said in November it was not an easy decision, because Cox was responsible for bringing EMS to this part of the state, and that there had never been an issue with their services or staff during their 27-year partnership.

"I could not have had better communication or a better relationship with Ricky Savage, who is Cox EMS western regional manager," Cieslinski. "[The decision] had nothing to do with the local services."

Bob Patterson, EMS director for Mercy, said the organization will be ready to begin providing EMS personnel to the district come March 9.

"We have all the equipment needed, and started our new coworker academy training in Cassville," Patterson said.

As for employees, Patterson said no Cox employees transferred over during the transition, but Mercy has all positions filled at this point, except for two.

"We have hired all new coworkers," Patterson said. "I think Cox gave them incentives to stay. Understandably, they were trained, and it was to their advantage to keep those employees. And that's OK. They're established with them and have their insurance through them. While we would have hoped to have had a few of them, we certainly understand why they made their decision to stay with Cox."

In November, Cieslinski said he was optimistic all of the 18 EMTs and paramedics would stay on, because the board was happy with the services they provide.

Even though the outcome was different than expected and the district will be starting out with a completely new staff, Cieslinski said he was confident the transition will be seamless.

"My understanding is there were offers to the employees to stay on board with Cox instead of moving to the new provider," he said. "I am confident because of the amount of dialogue and time that Mercy has put in to it. I still would have liked for the employees to move over, but I understand that's strictly their decision and [according to] everyone that we have spoken with, Mercy has been a rock-solid provider. They've been working very diligently."

The district had questions about Mercy cutting services recently in Carroll County, Ark., due to a loss of revenue there, and a concern the same thing might happen in Barry County, but Cieslinski said Patterson thoroughly explained the situation and put their concerns to rest.

"That was a night and day situation," Patterson said. "[Carroll County does] not have an ambulance district to support operations, whereas Barry County has an ambulance district to support us and is a different situation. We've been in that community for over 15 years with an operating loss every year, and got to the point we couldn't sustain it any longer."

Factors that entered into the district's decision to switch, according to Cieslinski, were Mercy's willingness to keep seniority and similar pay scales for employees, Mercy's open and honest communication, Mercy having three helicopters available for use compared to Cox's one, and the district being centrally located between Mercy's launch sites in Branson West, Joplin and Rogers, Ark., cutting flight time almost in half compared to flights from Springfield. Also, Cieslinski there is the advantage that Mercy helicopters can fly instrument-only in certain weather conditions.

"We're very excited to be able to serve the people of this community, and with resources like Mercy Hospital Cassville, as well as three Life Line helicopters and three other ground ambulance services in close proximity, we'll be able to get patients the help they need quickly," Patterson said.

Mercy will be providing EMS services to the county at a cost of $0. Cieslinski said Mercy is able to provide services for essentially no charge because the services rendered are billable to Medicare, Medicaid, insurance companies or self-pay.

"That's my understanding of how they make their money," he said.

The district itself is funded through taxes.

"Basically, the taxes that come to our district helps provide the ambulances, the facilities and the equipment needed to provide the services," Cieslinski said.

Cieslinski said there were other factors that contributed to their decision to switch to Mercy, including a discrepancy over the rates provided in the past by Cox, but maintained that he and the board had always been pleased with the services that were provided.

"Myself, and the board, want it to be known that, sincerely, we are grateful for the years of services that Cox provided to our community," he said.

Cieslinski said the ambulance district exists and provides the equipment, facilities and services they do for one reason -- for the betterment of our people, and the betterment of our community.

"If someone signs up to do something, they need to be all in, or they don't need to do it, and I take that seriously and firmly believe we are doing the right thing," Cieslinski

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