EMSA services hopefully up for public debate

On Wednesday, city councilors voted against an Emergency Medical Services Authority (EMSA) price hike. This was a $400 hike partially due to an incoming lawsuit against EMSA and their executive director, Steven Williamson, in a money kickback scheme. Because of this rate hike and growing distrust in EMSA as a company, Tulsa city councilors like Blake Ewing have argued that selecting an ambulance provider should be open to the public.
In past years, the choosing of an ambulance provider was done exclusively by the mayor. However, Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum is now on board with the public being involved with this business deal. Every five years, the city is allowed one month to decide if they want to cancel their business arrangement with EMSA. At every potential opportunity since 1996 or earlier, the Tulsa Fire Department has proposed a potential plan that they could take over the ambulance service. Tulsa Fire Chief Ray Driskell has stated this plan not because he is certain that the city needs to get rid of EMSA, but rather that public discussion of it has never happened. The next opportunity to cut EMSA’s contract is October 2021.
Under Driskell’s plan, the Tulsa Fire Department would cut out EMSA as the middleman between the city and American Medical Response or AMR. AMR works across the country providing medical transport for many states. EMSA contracts out with AMR for the specialized ambulances and other vehicles in order to properly transport patients safely to a hospital.
In this new plan, Driskell argues that the city should cut ties with EMSA and directly contact with ambulance providers such as AMR themselves. In response to the potential difficulty surrounding the replacement of EMSA, Driskell stated, “The thing that makes it so easy is, we don’t change anything.”
Instead of EMSA checking on the quality of the ambulance provider and business aspects such as billing, the city itself would do this work without the need for a middleman such as EMSA. There is a precedent for this in other cities. In Arlington, Texas and Colorado Springs, Colorado, the cities themselves work with AMR without the need for companies such as EMSA in order to facilitate the needs of the city with AMR, easing the fear that Tulsa is stepping into the great unknown.
EMSA’s current job in Tulsa is to oversee any potential elements of the ambulance service. This includes the ambulances provided by AMR or the medics who are involved in the procedures of moving these individuals to the hospitals for treatment. According to their website, EMSA’s job is to “ensure that the cities we serve receive the highest quality of emergency medical service at the best possible price.”
EMSA does not just work with the city of Tulsa but also Bixby, Sand Springs, Jenks and Oklahoma City. EMSA’s goal is to reduce the burden placed on the government by providing the service needed in their communities. While EMSA is its own company, their board of trustees has people voted in by the various city governments. They also have to get approval for any change of service in the cities where they are located.
In discussing why EMSA and the Fire Department did similar work, Mayor Bynum had this to say: “The reality is it isn’t efficient but it is effective. Our cardiac survival rates are among the best in the country and I chalk that up to the collaboration between the two (Fire Department and EMSA), the quick response-that basically you have a race to the scene between these two agencies, and that better serves the person who is in distress.”
EMSA is important to the city in its help working on medical transport. EMSA’s effort combined with the Fire Department helps makes Tulsa a safer city in times of crisis for people. However, it is more important that the public gets a say in this debate.
While the government is in charge of running the cities’ infrastructure, citizens should have a right to discuss the processes that determine an important issue such as one’s health. For our city to work, people should be able to have a say in the important decisions that will drastically affect their lives in the future. Democracy works on the will of the people and their right to determine what is best for them not what is best for the leaders. Therefore, I fully agree with the mayor that before October 2021, the public should determine the future of medical transport in Tulsa.

Post Author: Nathan Hinkle