About a year after announcing a contract termination with Cypress Creek Emergency Medical Services, ESD No. 11 launched its new mobile health care program Sept. 1.

ESD No. 11 serves portions of north Harris County including Creekside Park in The Woodlands. Cypress Creek EMS previously provided emergency services in the area through its contract with the ESD.

Palmer Buck, chief of The Woodlands Fire Department, said during an Aug. 13 meeting of The Woodlands Township board of directors there have been concerns with response times in Creekside Park recently. Buck said the issue has largely been due to the pandemic and staffing issues as Cypress Creek EMS employees began seeking employment elsewhere.

“[Response times] have all been convoluted with respect to COVID[-19],” Buck said. “The COVID surge has backed up the hospitals, which means ambulances have been backed up. They have actually been sitting at the hospitals upwards of two or three hours at times.”

During the board of directors meeting, Buck said The Woodlands launched an ambulance station with new ESD 11 Mobile Healthcare out of TWFD Station 7 at 26722 Kuykendahl Road, Tomball.

Despite the changes, however, Buck said he is unsure of when Creekside Park residents will begin seeing a change in EMS response times.“I think they will see a little bit better [response times], but I do not think they will see a dramatic increase because we are dealing with the surge,” Buck said. “The call volume has gone up dramatically, and the ambulances cannot get out of the hospital.”

During an Aug. 11 meeting, ESD 11 Mobile Healthcare CEO Doug Hooten said he does not see any issues with the launch.

“We have tested all of our systems. All of them are up and running,” Hooted said at the meeting. “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 ... will continue to be discussed until we’re all on the same page.”

Transitioning services

On Aug. 20, prior to the official launch, Hooten announced ESD 11 would be providing six additional ambulances and staff to help make the transition as smooth as possible.

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.

Buck said moving forward, he is confident in the direction ESD 11 Mobile Healthcare is going. The Woodlands Fire Department participated in the planning process.

“The group that was hired to run it ... we feel it is a good direction,” Buck said. “Every decision they have made so far has been good, and they have been working with all of the concerned parties to make sure they are meeting their needs as well.”

Buck said his department is able to respond to calls and provide emergency care, often within five or six minutes, but it is up to the EMS services to transport patients to the hospitals. “[We] are the only fire department in Montgomery County that has paramedics on the trucks,” Buck said. “We bring the same level of services the ambulances bring, we just do not have the ability to transport them.”