ETMC Ellis County pullout: Writing was on the wall

Photo credit: East Texas Medical Center

ELLIS COUNTY — East Texas Medical Center (ETMC) has informed Ellis County and cities within that the company plans on withdrawing ambulance services throughout the county.

According to a statement released by the Ellis County Judge's Office, ETMC notified the county on Jan. 27 with their intent on ending services effective March 1 or April 1, 2015.

ETMC and CareFlite have worked out an agreement where CareFlite will purchase ETMC's ambulances, equipment and hire affected employees. CareFlite has also agreed to fulfill ETMC's contract with Ellis County until Jan. 1, 2016.

"In echoing the sentiments of Paul Stevens, city manager of Waxahachie, a change in ambulance service companies is not going to affect emergency response," County Judge Carol Bush wrote in a public statement. "Ellis County as well as its partner agencies are working diligently on its transition plan to ensure that its residents will receive the best possible ambulance services without any service interruptions."

ETMC states they are bowing out of the contract early because of an opt-out clause that allows them to break the contract if there is a legal or regulatory change that changes their revenue stream.

According to ETMC, reductions in reimbursements from Medicare, Medicaid and private insurance prompted the decision.

ETMC also notified Kaufman County officials two days later about pulling completely out of Kaufman County and transferring their contract to CareFlite pending approval from the Kaufman County Commissioners' Court.

Although many counties were caught by surprise, writing was on the wall about what would ultimately occur.

Houston County experienced a similar scenario on Dec. 11, 2014 with ETMC giving county officials a 90-day notice before terminating the contract.

Trinity County was notified by ETMC on Dec. 19, 2014 and was given a termination date of March 14, 2015.

ETMC notified Upshur County on Nov. 25, 2014 with a termination date of March 1, 2015.

Cherokee County's ambulance contract was set to be terminated on July 16, 2013 but the county and ETMC worked on a new contract where ETMC would contract out the ambulance services.

The reasons provided in each press release contained the same statement.

"For many years, ETMC has been able to provide ambulance service in many communities for free or for a small fee, but with the changes in reimbursements from Medicare, Medicaid and private insurance we could no longer afford to provide this service," Neal Franklin, general manager for ETMC EMS, said in the press releases.

In addition to ending ambulance services in many cities and counties, ETMC announced in June 2014 that they would not renew their hospital lease in Clarksville located in Red River County after operating the hospital for 18-years. The lease was set to expire on March 31, 2016 but ETMC announced in Sept. 2014 they would close the hospital at the end of 2014.

The Clarksville City Council scrambled to select a new operator for the hospital and ultimately chose Paris Regional Medical Center on Sept. 9, 2014.

After operating a hospital in Mount Vernon for more than 25 years, ETMC informed Franklin County they would end their lease on Jan. 1, 2015. They also announced ending inpatient services at a hospital in Gilmer effective the same date.

Time will only tell if ETMC leaves more cities and counties scrambling to find replacement services with short notice.