HARLINGEN — The city’s ambulance company is expected to stand behind its medical services and track record today as City Commissioner Frank Puente continues to question clauses in the contract it’s held for 40 years.
South Texas Medical Care Foundation officials are set to make their presentation at a city commission meeting before opening up the forum to questions and discussion.
City Manager Dan Serna asked STEC officials to make the presentation aimed at informing more recently elected commissioners, Randy Whittington, the attorney representing STEC, said Tuesday.
“He asked that we provide them with a little history of the organization and how it was created and structured and go over services we provide,” Whittington said.
Last month, Puente questioned a clause in STEC’s contract that prohibits other ambulance services from entering the city limits.
“I’m just curious about healthy competition and letting other companies come in,” Puente said. “For them to monopolize this type of service is questionable.”
Since 2007, the city has exclusively contracted with STEC, a city press release states.
“Notwithstanding any license or certificate issued … to perform emergency medical services as an emergency medical services provider or emergency medical services personnel, it shall be unlawful for any person to engage in furnishing or providing emergency pre-hospital care, emergency medical care or emergency medical services or furnishing or providing non-emergency medical transport services by operating, driving or transporting a sick or injured person in an emergency medical services vehicle upon the public streets or alleys within the limits of the city of Harlingen unless expressly authorized by exclusive contract with the city or unless acting within the course of such person’s employment by an entity that holds such an authorization.”
Puente also questioned the availability of ambulances to adequately respond to emergencies.
“Harlingen is growing and I would like to see other services available,” he said. “My concern is service to the people who need it — or lack of.”
The contract requires the nonprofit organization, with 16 ambulances in its fleet, to have at least three ambulances available at all times to respond to emergency calls, according to the press release.
STEC bases 13 ambulances in Harlingen, covering the city from four locations, the press release states.
Puente also said he wants to compare STEC’s rates with those of other companies.
“The more services we have, the more options we have,” he said.
The company’s base rate for its Basic Life Support service stands at $795; Advanced Life Support I costs $910; Advanced Life Support II is $1,070; and critical care support is $1,220.
In 1979, local leaders formed the EMS service as a “community-based” program, the company’s website states.
“In the mid 1970s, Harlingen residents were without consistent available ambulance service,” the city’s press release states. “The city, community leaders, civic organizations and healthcare providers including Valley Baptist Medical Center and local doctors began working on the development of a modern EMS system.”
The company’s nonprofit status keeps rates low, the press release states.
“Because STEC, as a nonprofit foundation, does not have shareholders and is not motivated to make a profit for owners, STEC has been able to keep rates as low as — and more often than not — lower than most fire department-based EMS providers and the dozens of for-profit ambulance companies operating elsewhere in the Rio Grande Valley.”
“Because STEC does not pay dividends to private owners or bonuses to directors or officers, STEC has been able to reinvest its revenues and income back into the personnel and equipment necessary to provide its patient services,” the press release states.
Currently, the company provides ambulance services to Harlingen, Palm Valley, Primera, Combes, Rio Hondo, San Benito and Santa Rosa along with about three-fourths of rural Cameron County.
In Harlingen, STEC’s latest three-year contract expiries in September.