By T. Scott Boatright
The Lincoln Parish Police Jury during Tuesday’s monthly meeting in the Jack Beard Room at Lincoln Parish Library voted 6-3 against entering into a one-year, non-negotiable contract with the city of Ruston to provide ambulance and rescue services for parish residents through 2023.
Last week the Ambulance Service Committee voted 7-3 in favor of the proposal for $645,604 for the Ruston Fire Department to provide both services to the parish, advancing it to the full Jury.
Voting against the 2023 plan were Jury members Theresa Wyatt, Hazel Hunter, Richard Durrett, Glenn Scriber, Milton Melton and Sharon Mayfield.. Voting in favor of the proposal were jurors TJ Cranford, Logan Hunt and Matt Pullen.
LPPJ jurors Skip Russell, Joe Henderson (illness) and Annettee Straughter (death in the family) were not in attendance at the meeting.
Near the end of the approximately 15-minute discussion among Jury members concerning the proposal before the votes were tallied, Hunt asked why an earlier proposal about an agreement between the city of Ruston and the LPPJ hadn’t been brought to their attention.
“We’re sitting here talking about $625,000 right now for these services,” Hunt said. “I looked at (Ruston Mayor Ronny Walker’s) letter dated Jan. 31 advising of the Police Jury’s rejection of an offer of about $125,000 plus 5%. Why was that not placed before the whole Jury for the $125,000 plus 5% for the same services?”
Durrett, the LPPJ president, said he didn’t know.
“I can’t answer that,” Durrett said. “I wasn’t at the meeting.”
Logan again asked why that conversation wasn’t brought to the Jury as a whole much earlier?
“I can’t answer that right now,” Durrett told Hunt. “ I’ll be glad after the meeting to discuss it with you. But we’re at this point, and we can’t go backward. We can talk about what has happened in the past but there’s nothing we can do about it now. We’re at the point of making a decision about the $645,604.”
Parish Administrator Doug Postel said that if the proposal passed his recommendation would be paying the fee out of parish’s American Rescue Plan Act funding.
The debate largely has emerged because the ambulance and rescue services agreement between the city of Ruston and Lincoln Parish has stood at $30,000 annually for more than 20 years.
“We’ve heard about some other companies mentioned (about potentially providing ambulance and/or rescue services),” Scriber said early on during the discussion before the vote. ”I’m not talking about the city of Ruston. This is not about that.
“It’s been a complicated issue, but an increase of over 500% – and that may be exactly what it is, I get it (concerning the need for more funding after decades of the same fee). But without us seeking every possible service available out there, have we done the parish justice?”
Village of Choudrant Mayor and Fire Chief Bill Sanderson attended Tuesday’s meeting and said he has definite concerns should the LPPJ not be able to reach an agreement with Pafford Ambulance Services or another provider.
“Choudrant has had rescue services in place for more than 30 years,” Sanderson said. “We’ve worked with all of them out there. Pafford’s a class act. One of Acadian’s most used helicopter landing sites is in Choudrant. Another class act program. But both have to make money. The bottom line is that it’s got to be in the black, and that means providing the service at the least cost possible.”
And that brings the number of personnel on each ambulance a crucial point. The RFD has three people working on each of its ambulances – a driver and two more to provide patient care.
But that’s not the case with many other providers.
“Having two people on the ambulance means when you’re transporting, there’s one person in the back with the patient and one person driving,” Sanderson said. “On many, many occasions I’ve provided CPR by myself until help arrived. One case was 40 minutes. One person cannot hold out doing CPR for a long period of time without help.
“Unless they have multiple ambulances at a scene, Ruston has three people on board. That’s a world of difference in the care provided in the rear of an ambulance. Ruston has to be in the black budget-wise, but as good as the others are Ruston provides a better service in times of need. And I’m scared we have lost a very, very good service.”
Sanderson said having Interstate 20 running through Lincoln Parish complicates things even further.
“I’ve worked a 17-car wreck on the interstate,” Sanderson said. “We worked a nine or 10 car pileup under a bridge on I-20. We (Choudrant Fire and Rescue) worked it along with Ruston and Pafford. We once worked a bus wreck with 27 injuries and two fatalities. We worked that incident with Metro Ambulance out of Monroe and Ruston Fire Department.
“Eventually there are going to be some big issues like that come up. And I’m concerned.”