MATTOON -- Mitchell-Jerdan Ambulance Service and Dunn's Ambulance are preparing to expand their fleet and staff numbers as the scheduled July 25 end date nears for the Mattoon Fire Department's ambulance service.
Meanwhile, Mattoon Firefighters Local 691 is advocating for retaining the fire department's advanced life support capabilities as a backup for the two private ambulance providers operating in the city limits. The Mattoon City Council voted on July 18 to eliminate the fire department's ambulance service as a cost savings measure.
Greg Jerdan, owner of Mitchell-Jerdan Ambulance Service, said he is looking into options for increasing his fleet from three to four ambulances, adding to his staff, and further upgrading their life-saving equipment. He noted that Mitchell-Jerdan recently purchased new ZOLL X-Series Monitor/Defibrillators to equip its ambulances, replacing its aging monitor/defibrillators.
Jerdan said his family business has provided ambulance service in Mattoon for 84 years, on its own for many years and in cooperation with Dunn's prior to the fire department's service starting eight years ago. Jerdan said that as ambulance providers changed 40 years ago, he and his father, George, assured the city that they would help meet the community's needs. Jerdan said he and his daughter, Kendra, are now offering this same assurance.
"We were there yesterday, we are here today, and our service will be there tomorrow for everyone," Jerdan said.
Casey Schmitz, operations manager for Dunn's, said the Taylorville-based company has two ambulances operating in Mattoon and plans to add a third before July 25. Schmitz said Dunn's also has started a hiring campaign to expand its ambulance crews in Mattoon.
Schmitz said she has worked at Dunn's Mattoon station in the past and has returned to help with the transition to providing additional ambulance coverage in the community. She said the Mattoon station is staffed by crews who have experience working in cooperation with Mitchell-Jerdan, the Mattoon Fire Department, and other local emergency responders.
"We all do the job together," Schmitz said. She added that, "We are in the business of taking care of people and saving lives."
Sarah Bush Lincoln Health Center spokeswoman Patty Peterson said via email that the hospital will continue during the transition in Mattoon ambulance coverage to do what it has always done, which is to take care of patients on as timely a basis as possible using its transfer policy.
"When a patient requires a transfer, we first ask the patient if he or she has a preference; if no preference, we look at where they live in an effort to use the patient’s hometown ambulance service and, if that ambulance service is not available, we follow the protocol of using the next available ambulances in call rotation," Peterson said. "We have confidence in the area ambulance services to transfer our patients where they need to go, whether it is back home or to another facility."
City officials have said that the fire department's ambulance service loses money and duplicates the work of private ambulance providers. The firefighters union has countered that the department's service generates revenue and provides essential ambulance coverage for Mattoon.
The city originally set a May 1 end date for the fire department's ambulance service, but held off on taking action due to uncertainty regarding the outcome of grievances filed by the firefighters union.
On May 18, the city filed a lawsuit against the union to confirm a state arbitrator's April 18 decision in favor of the city's plans to eliminate the fire department's ambulance service. Other grievance processes and contract negotiations with the union are ongoing. A mediation session for the contract negotiations is scheduled on July 10.
Bart Owen, president of the union, said that if the city does follow through on eliminating the fire department's ambulance service, the city should maintain advanced life support equipment on its fire engines. He said this will give the firefighters the capability to treat heart attacks, breathing difficulty, diabetes complications and other life-threatening health issues until ambulance crews arrive at the scene.
"We still want to help take care of the community. We still want to run as a backup," Owen said, adding that the fire department's ambulance crews currently handle many calls that roll over to them when the private providers are busy. Owen said the firefighters want to get more information from the city about its plans for the transition in ambulance coverage.
City Administrator Kyle Gill said the city is preparing an updated set of regulations for private ambulance services in advance of the transition, and these updates may be ready for a vote at the July 2 city council meeting. Gill said the city is open to talking with the union about the role that the fire department will play in the transition.
Mattoon resident Lacy Quinn said fire department ambulance crews treated her during two different medical emergencies in recent years.
"If it was not for them, I am sure I would be dead right now," Quinn said.
Quinn said the city should look at other cost-cutting options within its various departments rather than eliminating the ambulance service. She said the firefighters are active in providing community service and they offer top quality ambulance service for Mattoon.
"I really do think it is going to hurt the city," Quinn said of eliminating the fire department's ambulance service.