Sugar Land dispatches new ambulance transport service

The city of Sugar Land launched its first-ever ambulance transport service Jan. 1 as part of a strategic project designed to decrease ambulance response times and improve the delivery of lifesaving emergency medical service within the city.

Sugar Land dispatches new ambulance transport service The new ambulance transport service in Sugar Land, which launched Jan.1, will be provided by the Sugar Land Fire Department.[/caption]

The new Sugar Land EMS service—which is provided by the Sugar Land Fire Department—was approved by City Council in 2013. Implementation of the service took place over the course of a year to allow time for the purchase of necessary equipment, the hiring of personnel and to perform the research needed to determine how best to fund the program. The city also determined the number of ambulances needed and where to locate them, said SLFD Assistant Fire Chief Mario Partida, who spearheaded the rollout of the city's EMS service. Partida said the placement of ambulances was the result of research by the fire department to station the ambulances near areas of the city where it experienced the highest saturation of emergency calls.

Since 2013, the city has added five ambulances, hired EMS Battalion Chief Cindy King and 13 paramedic-firefighters, trained 10 existing firefighters as paramedics, expanded its dispatch operations as well as hired two EMS dispatchers, purchased equipment and implemented patient care protocols with area hospitals, he said.

"This new service could literally mean the difference between life and death, as seconds often make a significant difference in public safety response," Partida said.

The increased personnel and equipment resources paired with a network of strategically located ambulances at fire stations throughout the city is designed to enable SLFD to dispatch resources based on the needs of specific incidents, said Doug Adolph, assistant communications director for Sugar Land. The city's approach is based on a network of ambulances and fire crews in close proximity throughout the city to provide better coverage and help reduce response times.

County EMS

Fort Bend County EMS and county residents are also expected to benefit from having an ambulance service within the city limits of the county's largest city.

"Fort Bend County EMS will redistribute its resources to areas of the incorporated and unincorporated county to improve response time and support existing services in areas where call volume has increased," said David Kosler, director of Fort Bend County EMS.

Ambulance service in Sugar Land has been provided since the 1970s by Fort Bend County EMS until Jan. 1. Fort Bend County operated two ambulances stationed within the city limits of Sugar Land, but with the rise in emergency calls originating in Sugar Land, the county was often spread thin.

"Fort Bend County's EMS overall response times will improve due to not responding to the 4,000 emergency calls each year originating within Sugar Land," Kosler said. "With Sugar Land EMS taking on this responsibility now, county units will remain available more often, thereby shortening the response time."

Rollout

In addition to operating more ambulances in the city, Sugar Land also seeks to decrease response times by improving the way paramedics are dispatched. The city implemented its Emergency Medical Dispatching system, a computer-aided dispatch system that helps dispatchers prioritize calls and send the appropriate personnel and units, Partida said.

The final component to the EMS service is the pre-hospital patient care reporting system, which will be used by the paramedics to send patient information electronically to local hospitals prior to arrival.

"We want to give emergency rooms more advanced information," Partida said. "We hope that it will improve patient outcomes if the emergency rooms can prepare for the patients who are coming."

Funding

In November, Sugar Land City Council established fees required of those using the city's EMS service. The established fees range from $900 to $1,000, depending on the type of service needed as well as a $14 per transport mile fee.

Bryan Guinn, budget officer for Sugar Land, said city property taxes and sales taxes will subsidize about 35 percent of the service, while the remaining 65 percent will come from service fees paid.

Guinn said service fees for the city's EMS falls in line with fees charged by other municipalities, such as Houston and Pearland.

The Fort Bend County EMS fee structure includes a base rate of $735 per transport and $10 per transport mile, Kosler said.

If Sugar Land were to adopt the county's EMS rate, Guinn said the percentage of the service subsidized by the taxpayers of Sugar Land would increase from about 35 percent to 49 percent.

"That results in about one-third of a cent increase on the tax rate," Guinn said. "So we would be looking at shifting some of that responsibility from the patients to the actual taxpayers of Sugar Land."

Adolph said the projected revenue for the first nine months of EMS service in the city is $775,873. The fees established for the EMS and the percentage of the tax base used to fund the service are anticipated to cover the cost of providing the service and that no additional funding is expected in the future. Adolph said there are no plans to raise the tax rate to support the ambulance service.

Click here for the print version of this story that appeared in the February edition.