Campaign 2010: Does Oakridge need two ambulances?

Campaign 2010: Does Oakridge need two ambulances?

OAKRIDGE, Ore. -- Declining Medicare and Medicaid rates are leaving the city of Oakridge cash strapped and short on emergency response crews.

The Nov. 2 ballot asks Oakridge residents to weigh in on whether or not they would agree to pay an additional $7.50 a month for five years to help keep emergency services afloat. The results of the vote are advisory only as the City Council will have the final word on the matter.

"Right now if we get two emergency calls, the ambulance will go to the most serious emergency and we will call a volunteer to come in and take that second call,” said Oakridge Mayor Don Hampton. “It could mean that somebody’s going to have to wait.” 

The Oakridge Fire Department has three paramedics on staff and at any given time one of them is on duty.

But if two calls come in at one time, there’s only one crew immediately able to respond. If that first ambulance is transporting someone to the nearest hospital, which happens to be about 50 miles away, it could take up to three hours for that ambulance to return.

“We’re knocking on wood that it won’t happen,” said Hampton.

Oakridge Fire Department Chief Tim Demers said the surcharge would raise about $600,000 that could be used to hire another paramedic for the second ambulance. He said the money would also be used to update the department's aging fleet of ambulances.

Demers said they cannot afford either the extra paramedic or new ambulance if they do not increase their funding.

Demers and Hampton said the declining Medicare and Medicaid rates are putting emergency services in dire financial straights.

Based on projected Medicare and Medicaid rates for 2011, the city pays about $150 more per patient than they did back in 2009.

According to fire officials, they receive two or three calls a day and about 600 per year.

Some residents said they voted against the measure because the emergency crews are not very busy.

“I voted against the measure,” said Oakridge voter Larry Conn. “I didn’t think they would be that busy to need another ambulance.”