Pride Care Becomes Sole Operator of Ambulance Service

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The South County EMS shown in the photo, ceased to exist on Jan. 1. It was replaced by Pride Care EMS ambulance service on that date. Shown from left are Wes Schmitt, former board president of South County EMS; Vicki White, administrator; Lea Bailey, paramedic; Chris Koeneke, emergency medical technician.

By Sue Moore

Pride Care Ambulance service made it official on New Years Day: It replaced South County Emergency Medical Service for the Vicksburg, Schoolcraft and Fulton areas, ending a decades-long tradition of local ambulance service in the area.

South Kalamazoo County residents were notified of the coming change in postcards sent in December.

The home-grown service had seen many ups and downs in its existence over the last 30-plus years. In the early years, volunteers were trained in first aid life-saving techniques.
The state tightened the licensing procedures for volunteers and eventually insisted that ambulance services must have licensed emergency medical technicians aboard. That made operations more costly. The South County EMS was formed in answer to the need to upgrade in the 1990s. It invested in staffing and equipment and operated as a nonprofit organization run by a volunteer board.

An issue has been the cost of operating within a population base that didn’t have enough demand for services to meet the overhead costs, according to Wes Schmitt the former board president. Also, Medicare and Medicaid gradually stopped reimbursing for services at their actual costs. Two entities were formed to meet the need: South County EMS contracted with the South Kalamazoo County Fire Authority for service and when it appeared the ambulance service might have to file for bankruptcy two years ago, the authority put out feelers to established, for-profit ambulance services in the area.

The Fire Authority had the task of choosing a helpmate to the local service. The authority received four bids and chose Pride Care in early 2017. Pride immediately used its purchasing power to help reduce costs and took other measures to get the service on a sounder financial basis.

Local ambulance service has now come full-circle, with Pride Care taking over completely and South County EMS ceasing operations. There are advantages to these changes, said Pride Care CEO Bill Mears. “We feel that response time can improve even further, especially on second calls when one vehicle is already out,” Mears said. “Staff will not change. We have plans to purchase the building that houses the vehicles in the near future. That is being worked out with the bank and our attorney. In the meantime, we are renting the building behind the hospital in Vicksburg.”

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