David Ball – For The Record

An ambulance company’s application for a permit to operate in the city of Orange was a no-go at the regular meeting of the Orange City Council on the morning of October 13.

An application from Acute Medical Services LLC for a permit for emergency and non-emergency ambulance service in the city of Orange was denied. Prior to the vote there was a public hearing on the issue. Acadian Ambulance has had an exclusive agreement with the city via ordinance since 2006 as the sole ambulance provider in the city.

Jody Means with Acute said he grew up in Orange and graduated from West Orange-Stark High School. After learning EMS management, Means said he wanted to return home. He added he worked at the largest and busiest EMS, the Harris County Emergency Services District #1.

He said he learned Acute was denied a permit through a memorandum from David Frenzel, Orange fire chief who serves as a liaison with ambulance companies and the city.

Means said he was not asked for Acute’s input and the reason for denial are “not valid.”

He then made his case, point by point, to Frenzel’s reasons for denial.

Means said Acadian has a history of non-responses while Acute has made thousands of 9-1-1 calls, particularly in Harris County. They also serve as a backup for the city of Beaumont.

He said Acute’s dispatchers are all certified and not limited to one location, particularly if a natural disaster strikes on the Gulf Coast. The company’s software allows dispatchers movement and relocation. Calls can be routed to central dispatch.

All EMTs are licensed to work in the state of Texas.

Rotor wing ambulances are available through PHI and Hermann LIfe Fllght. Means said Acadian does not provide rotor wing ambulances for Orange.

Acute has adequate ambulance units in Orange and the surrounding cities. Three current units are based in Beaumont and nine additional units are available.

He said the company has three times the insurance coverage needed by the state and they can increase limits.

Means said customers completed a brief survey on Acadian Ambulance and said they have late response times, even near their office in Orange.

He completed his comments by saying the city’s ordinance is a monopoly.

John Hossom, legal counsel for Acute, said they had to complete an open records request to obtain Frenzel’s memorandum and received it late last week.

Hossom said the issues were never addressed with Acute and that they provide high quality and a high level of service.

“The ordinance limits competition,” he said. “In 2006 the city gave an exclusive license to Acadian. It was designed to limit competition and direct business toward Acadian. Acute Medical Services can match Acadian’s services.”

Hossom next spoke on Acadian’s late response time and the public’s need in Orange for qualified ambulance care.

With Acadian being the sole provider in the city, Hossom believes Acadian has not motivation to improve service.

“We succeed through competition. If they do not improve, it may be adverse to them and it’s not the responsibility of the city council,” he said.

Hossom admitted Acute made one glitch in the application process on the insurance coverage when they exceed state requirements.

He asked the council if they could postpone the vote until next week and Acute will have their insurance in place.

Brandon Hebert, director of operations for Acadian spoke next.

He said he has been director for 16 years and the company has been around since 1971. The company serves as the primary, backup and rollover service in Texas and Louisiana.

Hebert said his company has met and exceeded response time criteria for the health and safety of Orange County citizens. They are one in seven to be Commission of Accreditation of Ambulance Services in Texas. They are employee-owned which means they are motivated to excel. Their dispatchers are EMT certified and they have redundancy communication centers.

Acadian has critical care capabilities and a full-time medical director, Dr. Beeson who is also an EMT.

Hebert said their personnel do a lot of community service at no charge to the city of Orange because they are the sole provider.

He said their business has tapered off somewhat since Baptist Orange Hospital and St. Mary’s Hospital in Port Arthur not being inpatient facilities, but the remain committed even if their profitability decreases.

“We’re seeing the big picture at all times,” he said.

Hebert said when ambulance services are shared together in markets, there can be a problem with the rotation because that company’s unit that’s up may not necessarily be the closest to the emergency area.

Hebert said Acute has a relationship with Neighbor’s Emergency Center in Orange.

On response times, he explained non-emergency calls may sometimes be a little longer and some emergency calls take longer because the unit is not near the emergency area.

“We provide consistent, quality care. That’s our incentive there,” Hebert said. “Look at what we provide. We have 700 to 900 emergency calls a day and 70 to 90 calls a day in Southeast Texas.”

Frenzel then addressed the city council.

He said by state and local law the city has the right to create an ordinance regulating emergency services. OCS was the provider in the city during the 1980s until they ceased operations in 2006 because they couldn’t compete against private company providers.

Acadian was awarded as sole provider that year and has done so but for a brief time following Hurricane Ike when other providers assisted in the city. Other companies have periodically challenged the city over Acadian’s sole provider status and those companies eventually went away.

Acadian has met response times for the city’s monthly compliance report, according to Frenzel.

Acute is deficient in several areas related to the ordinance and “the burden of proof is on the applicant.”

In other city business, resolutions were approved for the public works department to purchase three utility trucks through Buy Board for $74,722; a contract was awarded to Kinloch Equipment & Supply, Inc. through Buy Board for $163,950 for a new street sweeper; a contract to PlayPower LT Farmington, Inc. through Buy Board for $41,024 for a new playground located at Sunset Park; and a contract to Beaumont Tractor for $33,783 for a new Kubota Mini-Trac.