HARLINGEN — Officials representing the city’s ambulance company strongly stood behind its services after City Commissioner Frank Puente raised questions stemming from the contract it’s held for 40 years.
Wednesday, community leaders serving as South Texas Emergency Care Foundation’s officers and directors helped pack City Hall after City Manager Dan Serna requested the officials make a presentation during the City Commission meeting.
“We’re the only EMS provider in the Valley, and maybe in Texas, that’s represented by the community,” attorney Randy Whittington, who represents STEC, told commissioners after introducing several community leaders.
After the half-hour presentation, commissioners including Puente didn’t respond with questions.
The latest in technology, medical equipment and training help STEC respond to emergency calls across much of Cameron County, officials said.
“That’s what we’re all about — saving lives,” STEC President Jo Wagner told commissioners.
Last year, she said, STEC’s dispatchers fielded 300,000 emergency calls.
“We have advanced levels of emergency care,” she said.
Wagner said the company also provides air transport to hospitals outside the Rio Grande Valley.
For school sports matches, she said, a company ambulance stands by.
The Valley Baptist Legacy Foundation helps fund the company with a staff of 82, Wagner said.
“I think we’ve been audited by every government agency that audits,” she said. “We come out clean. We operate our business like a business.”
Teaching home health care
In about a month, STEC will launch its program Community Health Care Medical Program, aimed at teaching residents to care of sick family members, cutting down on costly hospital visits, Rene Perez, the company’s transportation director, told commissioners.
“Our goal is to eliminate ER (visits),” he said. “That really ties up health care.”
Since opening with two ambulances in 1979, STEC has served as a part of the community, Whittington said.
“For more than 40 years, STEC has been the only EMS provider offering EMS care with a license in the city of Harlingen,” he said.
Community leaders formed STEC at a time of crisis.
In 1975, the city’s only ambulance company left town, Whittington said.
Then, residents began driving patients in cars to hospitals — or asking funeral homes to transport them in a hearse.
About 10 years ago, he said, STEC stopped charging the cities in which it operates, billing its patients.
As a nonprofit foundation, the company doesn’t pay out dividends or bonuses, he said.
Instead, he said, STEC invests its revenues in equipment, technology and personnel.
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.
Puente questions contract
Since last month, Puente has questioned a clause in STEC’s contract that prohibits other ambulance services from entering the city limits.
“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.
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 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 Harlingen, STEC’s latest three-year contract expiries in September.