HSHS St. Mary’s Hospital and Decatur Ambulance Service (DAS) have been proudly serving this community for a combined 200 years. HSHS acquired DAS in June 2018; the hospital’s mission lines up entirely with that of DAS. We’re committed to helping our neighbors in emergency situations in the Decatur area, and we hope everyone can appreciate the consistent and strong investment we’ve made in the emergency care business for this community.
It’s much more than a business for us, it’s our mission. Our hearts and minds are in it.
We hope city leaders will use careful discernment when deciding if licensing an additional ambulance service in Decatur is necessary. Arrow Ambulance Service recently applied for a license to operate. Reports indicate that they’d like to operate five additional ambulances in Decatur, in addition to the six DAS ambulances already operating 24/7. We are concerned that doubling the number of ambulances in Decatur will oversaturate the market and possibly lead to several dedicated paramedics at DAS with their jobs on the line. That’s not what we want.
DAS has managed an outstanding emergency response operation for many decades, and they’ve made some extensive upgrades in their system to better serve patients facing emergency health situations that are often a matter of life and death. DAS has an average response time to urgent 911 calls of 5 minutes and 19 seconds. The vast majority of responses are under the standard eight-minute response time required by the ordinance. Thus, it appears that there are a reasonably adequate number of ambulances already in operation within the city.
Unfortunately the population of Decatur and Macon County has steadily declined since 1990. Decatur had a population of 84,000 in 1994, and DAS was operating sufficiently with only four ambulances. Today, the population is 72,000, and DAS is currently operating six ambulances on a 24/7 basis. Plans are in the works to add a seventh ambulance. DAS employs approximately 135 people. Most of their full-time employees live and work in Decatur and are invested in the community.
Additionally, it is unclear how our 911 dispatch center would effectively manage calls between two ambulance companies without a significant and costly upgrade to their current dispatch system. Here is the way it works now when a 911 call comes into dispatch and an ambulance is needed: Dispatchers contact DAS to send an ambulance to the site of the emergency. Since the dispatch center does not have GPS technology in place to see where the closest ambulance is in relation to the emergency, DAS purchased that advanced technology to make sure they can dispatch the nearest ambulance to the site of the emergency patient so that patient gets a more timely and efficient response.
DAS has taken our role as the sole ambulance provider in the city of Decatur very seriously for a long time, and we hope we’re not forced to stop by some short-sighted decision-making.
HSHS leaders are ready and willing to work with anyone in our community to assess emergency medical services in the area. We think it would serve the city and county well if all medical leaders worked with our local elected officials and emergency responders to sincerely assess our system and decide what improvements could be made.
Bringing an additional ambulance service to the city could potentially de-stabilize the system. We’re not trying to be anti-competitive here, but logical. Let’s respect and maintain the solid emergency response operation that DAS has created in the Decatur community, especially when we’re an organization that stands ready and willing to discuss whether additional emergency transport changes need to be made to meet the community’s needs.
At the end of the day, we need to remember that it’s all about being able to provide the best care possible for our local families who need our help in emergency situations.
E.J. Kuiper is President and Chief Executive Officer of the Central Illinois Division, Hospital Sisters Health System.
(This story has been corrected to reflect the not-for-profit nature of Carle Arrow Ambulance.)