GRANDVIEW - With Prosser Memorial Hospital's ambulance service facing a second consecutive year of budget deficits, the Grandview City Council last night decided to explore possible alternatives in case the hospital withdraws ambulance service from the area.
Fire Chief Pat Mason told council during a study session that Prosser had more than 1,700 calls from its Grandview station from May 2006 through April 2007, but less than a third, just over 500, were actually to residents within the Grandview city limits.
The Prosser hospital is seeking a contract with Grandview that would require the city to pay about $120,000 to help meet a budget deficit projected at more than $400,000 for 2007.
Mason said the federal government has instituted what is essentially an "unfunded mandate" in requiring ambulance providers to give a ride to all who ask, but only covering a portion of the cost for Medicare patients.
He noted the example of someone on Medicare calling for an ambulance because they needed a ride. Due to federal mandates, the provider has to provide the ambulance ride after responding, but will only be funded at about 70 percent of the cost of the trip.
As far as ambulance alternatives, Mason reported that it would cost about $300,000 each year for Sunnyside to provide ambulance service to Grandview. The price tag includes four full time paramedics and a new ambulance. The estimate does not include possible factors such as overtime, equipment rental or maintenance of the new ambulance.
Other alternatives include the city running its own service at a cost of about $350,000 annually or providing a basic, streamlined service staffed by volunteers at a cost ranging from $70,000 to $100,000 per year.
By far the most expensive option presented would be to expand the fire hall and provide two ambulances with 12 full time paramedics at an annual cost of about $1 million.
Councilman Robert Morales observed that whatever course of action the city takes-staying with Prosser or seeking another provider-the city coffers will be out some money.
Mayor Norm Childress said he is very cautious about signing any contract with the Prosser hospital, noting that a one-year $120,000 deal could be prolonged if the hospital continues to run in red ink.
Childress also expressed concern that other areas that use Prosser's ambulance service, namely Yakima County and Mabton, have not yet been contacted by the hospital about paying a share of the budget deficit.
"It seems like they come to Grandview," he said.
City Administrator Scott Staples added that Grandview's next step should be to meet with Mabton, YCFD #5 and Yakima County commissioners to inform the entities of the possible ramifications if Prosser were to pull its ambulance service back to the confines of Benton County.
Staples said the city isn't yet in a "crisis" mode in regards to ambulance service, but encouraged council to be "proactive" in talking with its neighbors in Mabton and Yakima County.
"Just because Prosser hasn't talked to them doesn't mean we can't," he said.