San Benito gives STEC 5-year ambulance contract

The Harlingen City commissioners were set to discuss the contention of two city commission members that Gov. Greg Abbott’s order suspends city ordinance restrictions barring ambulance companies from entering South Texas Medical Care Foundation's service area.

SAN BENITO — The city’s ambulance company has landed a five-year contract offering residents the same rates it charges across most of Cameron County.

Earlier this week, city commissioners gave South Texas Emergency Care Foundation the contract that will run from Jan. 1, 2021 to Dec. 31, 2025.

“STEC is pleased that the mayor and city commissioners of San Benito have agreed to renew their long-standing association with and membership in our nonprofit organization,” STEC stated through its attorney Randy Whittington.

“We are gratified by their vote of confidence and proud to continue providing quality ambulance and emergency medical services to the residents of San Benito.”

The Harlingen-based company’s contract gives STEC exclusive rights to provide ambulance and EMS services within the city limits.

“We’re satisfied with what STEC has been providing,” City Manager Manuel De La Rosa told city commissioners during Tuesday’s meeting.

After the meeting, Whittington stated the contract offers San Benito residents the same rates it charges other area cities, including $795 for basic life support, $910 for service described as Advanced Life Support I, $1,070 for Advanced Life Support II service and $1,220 for critical care support.

“STEC’s base rates in San Benito are the same as the base rates in all areas served by STEC, Whittington stated, adding, “those rates do not apply to Medicare or Medicaid patients for which reimbursement rates are established by law.”

Response time

During the meeting, newly elected Commissioners Pedro Galvan and Rene Garcia wanted to know STEC’s response time to emergency calls.

“There’s growth in this town and I just want to make sure that we have adequate service when it comes to life-threatening situations,” Garcia said.

In response, De La Rosa told commissioners STEC, like other ambulance companies with which he’s held discussions, didn’t commit to a certain response time as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, during which ambulances often wait outside emergency rooms before hospitals admit patients.

“They don’t want to commit to certain response times because of the pandemic and under these extreme circumstances,” he said.

De La Rosa said he’s held discussions with other ambulance companies which also didn’t commit to certain response times amid the pandemic.

“No one will commit to anything,” he said, referring to response times.

When a previous administration brought STEC back to San Benito in 2013, the city had charted the company’s average response time to 640 calls at 6 minutes and 4 seconds.

But the pandemic hasn’t stopped STEC’s ambulances from marking rapid response times, De La Rosa told commissioners.

“They’re all within a reasonable period of time,” he said.

Ambulance fleet

Commissioners also questioned the availability of STECs ambulances.

“Whenever we’ve needed ambulances in this area, they’ve brought them down,” De La Rosa told commissioners. “There are plenty of ambulances. If they have to come from somewhere else, they will. They do a very good job of providing (coverage).”

Contract

As part of its contract, STEC will station an ambulance in San Benito while making available ambulances stationed in such cities as Harlingen.

“STECF shall obtain and maintain throughout the term of this contract not less than one ambulance at a location in the city of san Benito to be available for ambulance and EMS service at all times, 24 hours a day, for each day unless said ambulance is on an emergency call,” the contract states.

“In addition to said ambulance, STECF shall make such other ambulances available at its locations in the city of Harlingen as may, in STECF’s judgment, be necessary to provide ambulance and EMS services in the city of San Benito pursuant to this contract.”

“STECF shall maintain an adequate number of duly qualified and licensed personnel (as may be required by law) to fully and effectively operate such ambulances to provide ambulance and EMS services to the citizens of San Benito during the term hereof.”

fdelvalle@valleystar.com