ESD 11 CEO Doug Hooten at an Aug. 19 meeting announced the district will assist Cypress Creek EMS beginning Aug. 20 by providing six additional ambulances and staff for the remainder of the month.

Last September, ESD 11 commissioners voted to terminate its contract with CCEMS to provide emergency medical services for approximately 177 square miles in areas including Cypress, Tomball, Spring and Humble. The district announced in December that it would form its own emergency services provider—ESD 11 Mobile Healthcare—beginning Sept. 1.

Additionally, ESD 11 commissioners approved the payment of CCEMS’ monthly invoice through Aug. 19, though the remainder of the invoice will be prorated to reflect the assistance provided by ESD 11 Mobile Healthcare and will only be paid if CCEMS returns all district-owned assets by Sept. 3.

The announcement that the district would be assisting CCEMS with ambulances and staff is coming with less than two weeks remaining before ESD 11 Mobile Healthcare officially launches.

Harris County Precinct 4 Commissioner Jack Cagle spoke during the public comments portion of the Aug. 19 meeting about the importance of both entities working together to ensure a smooth transition of services.

“Our community needs for you as a body to think of the transition,” Cagle said. “We have 1.1 million people that you serve, most of which are in Precinct 4. A gap in service is a catastrophe that must be avoided.”

According to CCEMS CEO Wren Nealy, the EMS provider has been struggling to employ the number of ambulances required in the contract due to a shortage in staffing he said was caused by CCEMS employees leaving to work for ESD 11 Mobile Healthcare early. Additionally, Nealy said hold times for ambulances at hospitals have risen to as high as five hours because of COVID, leaving those vehicles out of service until patients are admitted.

Doug Hooten, the ESD 11 Mobile Healthcare CEO, said he has been in contact with Nealy concerning ESD 11 Mobile Healthcare providing supplemental assistance until Sept. 1.

“We’re working currently with Cypress Creek [EMS] to [determine] the most effective way to put those trucks into the system,” Hooten said, noting that staffing issues resulting from sick employees, as well as extended waiting times at hospitals, have put added stress on local EMS providers. “Anything we can do at this particular juncture to add resources to the system, we’re certainly looking at.”

At an Aug. 19 emergency meeting held later the same day, ESD 11 commissioners voted to approve a contract with American Medical Response, Inc. to provide EMS services in the two weeks leading up to the Sept. 1 launch. ESD 11 General Counsel Regina Adams said the agreement would not replace the supplemental assistance provided by ESD 11 Mobile Healthcare, noting AMR’s services would only be used if needed.

“This is essentially, for lack of a better term, a belt and suspenders and third backstop agreement in place in case we absolutely need it, so that we can make sure that all of our bases are completely covered,” Adams said.

Concerning the launch of ESD 11 Mobile Healthcare, Hooten said the district was in good shape to be ready by the Sept. 1 deadline.

“I do not see any issues with us starting,” Hooten said. “We've tested all of our systems. All of them are up and running. We continue to work with first responders to make sure that we’re all getting on the same page relative to how they will respond, what frequencies we will use, and all of that has been discussed and will continue to be discussed until we’re all on the same page.”

Hooten said that shortages in materials have delayed the delivery of some chassis to the district’s ambulance manufacturer, but he said the combination of new ambulances that are ready for use and district-owned ambulances that will be returned by CCEMS would be used until ESD 11 Mobile Healthcare receives its full fleet of ambulances.

"We’ve put a lot of contingencies in place to make sure that we can continue to operate," Hooten said.