Bonita Springs Fire's request to provide ambulance service deemed incomplete

A Bonita Springs fire district request to provide its own ambulance service –- instead of using county emergency medical services -- was deemed incomplete by Lee County.

County Manager Karen Hawes, who is in the process of deciding whether to recommend the district’s request to county commissioners, sent an application of need for EMS transport service back to the Bonita Springs Fire Control and Rescue District and asked for more details.

In late May, the Bonita fire district sent the request to provide advanced life support transport service to its district, arguing it would be able to provide better services for its community.

But the district’s explanation was not enough for the county to approve.

The fire district has explained why it wants its own ambulance transport service, said Kim Dickerson, Lee County deputy director of public safety, but it hasn’t explained how it would improve emergency services or be able to afford the expenses.

Dickerson’s department, which oversees the county’s EMS, is taking the lead on analyzing the fire district’s request.

Ken Craft, Bonita’s assistant fire chief, said a Bonita-based EMS transport program could offer patients quicker response times and continuity of service for patients. It could also lead to fewer trucks responding to an emergency scene, he said.

However, the county is asking for four clarifications from the department:

■ How will the department be able to afford the expense?

■ How would the fire district-run EMS provide quicker response times and better service than the county-provided service?

■ How many transport trucks will be in service?

■ Will the department participate in closest unit response?

Dickerson said the fire district’s initial request contained contradictory information about the later two questions.

Craft explained this week that the district will run four EMS transport trucks a day, and they would respond to emergencies outside the district provided that trucks were not already responding in Bonita.

The more important concerns for the county, Dickerson said, are how the fire district plan would improve public safety and how it would be able to pay for its own EMS program.

Dickerson said county-EMS service is already sufficient in Bonita Springs.

“They just need to clarify how they would enhance the service that was already being provided,” she said.

Craft said he thought his initial application addressed that question, but he said he is working this week to provide greater detail.

He also said revenue projections from hospital transport fees should help pay for the annual cost of running EMS services.

The yearly operational costs for an EMS transport service, which include providing supplies and maintenance, would cost the fire district an additional $132,000, estimated Craft. The revenue brought in from transport fees are projected at somewhere between $600,000 and $800,000, said the assistant fire chief.

The greater cost would be start-up, an estimated $1.2 million, which would include the purchase of at least four transport trucks.

Craft admitted that was a large expense, but said that might not have to pay all that money up front. He explained the district may be able to pay those costs in installments.

Still, affordability is a big issue with the county, said Dickerson.

The county has recently had to subsidize EMS service in Lehigh Acres, a community that once provided its own transport service until financial cutbacks for the fire district to scale back operations.

“With everyone taking drops in the revenue,” Dickerson said, “we want to make sure the funding is there that would support this program.”

Craft said he hoped to submit his revised report to the county on Thursday.

The county could make its decision on the fire district’s request by mid-August.

Connect with Aaron Hale at http://www.naplesnews.com/staff/aaron-hale

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