Many Horseshoe Bend residents are alarmed to learn that an emergency medical service ambulance is no longer based in the city and frustrated there is nothing they can do about it.
"The ambulance service here was good," said resident Janice Wegenke. "I had a stroke, a year ago in December, and they were here within five minutes."
Izard County ambulances are now based only in Calico Rock and Melbourne. That means, it will take at least 15 minutes, under good conditions, for an ambulance to reach Horseshoe Bend.
"We are the biggest city in the county and have the largest population of elderly," said resident Paul Osborne. "15 minutes response time, 15 minutes is a terrible amount of time to wait for help for a person who has had a stroke or serious heart attack."
Horseshoe Bend lost its ambulance base because A.E.T. Ambulance Service, which has the contract to serve Izard County, was recently purchased by Southern Paramedic Service.
Southern agreed to continue providing service to the county through the end of the year, when the A.E.T. contract expires. However, it reserved the right to make changes in service to address financial losses A.E.T. was facing.
"Southern told us A.E.T. was losing $20,000 to $30,000 a month," said Ken Ballman, an Izard County Justice of the Peace who lives in Horseshoe Bend. "It apparently feels having an ambulance based here, on the northern edge of the county, is a big expense it can't afford."
The ambulance service turmoil was a big topic of discussion during a candidates forum in Horseshoe Bend on Thursday, Oct. 28.
Since the ambulance service is controled by an EMS Board and Quorum Court, candidates for Mayor and Aldermen have no power over the situation.
During the forum, J-P Ballman was asked to explain what he knew about the situation, since he was involved in the meeting that resulted in Southern Paramedic Service agreeing to serve out A.E.T.'s contract with the county.
"Southern just bought A.E.T.'s equipment, it had no legal obligation to serve the county," explained Ballman. "As bad as it is (losing a Horseshoe base), we, at least, still have ambulance service."
Ballman explained that running an emergency ambulance service is an expensive business and many of the 163 services in Arkansas are having trouble surviving, financially.
Ballman told citizens there is no guarantee that a new company hired to begin service in January will put an ambulance base back in Horseshoe Bend.
Despite the Horseshoe Bend reduction, EMS Board Chairman Wayne Lee said, "All citizens of Izard County have adequate service, currently."
Lee understands that Horseshoe Bend residents are upset an ambulance is no longer based there but he feels an ambulance based in Melbourne can reach Horseshoe Bend in a reasonable response time.
"In emergency situations where an ambulance will be delayed we can call on other services, in Salem, for example, to provide mutual aid," said Lee.
Lee added the board will make sure the next company hired to provide service has adequate equipment and employees, and allocates its assets in a way all citizens are fairly served.
The process of hiring a company to serve Izard County, beginning in 2011, is underway.
Requests for proposals were sent out to ambulance services around the state last month.
On Nov. 12, the board will open proposals it receives and begin the process of evaluating the proposals and negotiating with companies the board believes will provide the best service.
"We have set high standards that we expect an ambulance service to meet," said Lee.
According to Lee, the top priority is to hire a service that will be able to reach all areas of the county quickly and provide a high level of emergency care. The board wants safeguards in a new contract which will allow it to periodically evaluate the service and take action if it is not meeting its commitments.
Lee is confident a new company will be chosen and a contract will be in place by Jan. 1 to insure that Izard County continues to be served by emergency ambulance service.
For now, Horseshoe Bend residents will have to get used to the idea the nearest ambulance responding to their emergency call will come from Melbourne.