Residents of Ralls face uncertainty as the rural community’s EMS is in jeopardy

On a Tuesday night earlier this month, outside Ralls City Hall, nearly two dozen residents waited in the 90-degree Texas heat. For two hours, they waited impatiently for their city leaders to tell them whether they would keep their emergency medical service (EMS) – the city’s latest lifeline after a series of budget cuts.

The rural town is in a bind that has become a common reality in other rural Texas communities where access to health care has been crippled. The Crosbyton Clinic hospital is about nine miles away with just two beds, and Ralls is between Crosbyton and Lubbock. The clinic is mainly used to stabilize patients before transferring them to Lubbock, which is a further 30 miles away, and a drive back via Ralls away.

Crosby County has fewer than 6,000 residents and, according to data from the American Public Media Research Lab, 19% of its residents are uninsured. The 2019 census shows that 19% of county residents are 65 or older.

Recently Ralls Town Council considered closing the EMS service as it was running over budget with little revenue. At a town meeting earlier this month, residents expressed the importance of service to their community. Suddenly, without notice, the EMS was temporarily closed last week.

Residents have already seen the effects of this choice.

“The day after our ambulance was suspended, my mother fell,” said Kathylynn Sedgwick, a Ralls native who cares for her 80-year-old mother. She described the situation in detail during a public hearing this week.

“She cut her head off enough to get seven staples,” Sedgwick said. “It broke my heart, as someone who’s been here my whole life. So I loaded it up and we went to the ER in Lubbock.

Sarah Jamerson was the director of Ralls EMS, but stepped down last month. She grew up in Ralls and her grandmother started the service, so she jumped at the chance to come back and help keep the station open last year.

But the budget is tight — the town of Ralls operates the EMS service and Jamerson said $40,000 is allocated for the station by the city council, but that’s not enough to keep the station running.

“The health and well-being of the citizens of this city is worth more than the $40,000 that is currently in our budget,” Jamerson said at the meeting.

“I feel betrayed,” Jamerson said. “I did everything I could to save him, but in the end I couldn’t do it myself and I certainly couldn’t do it with a tip that was going to stab me in the back for that I was trying to.”

Texas Tech Public Media spoke with Jamerson several times while working on a project with Texas Newsroom and the PBS series “Frontline” that focuses on rural health care in the state.

In May, she explained that the EMS service was operating in the red due to a lack of revenue and growing expenses for equipment and training.

“The problem with EMS, as it grows as an industry, it inherently becomes more expensive to do it,” Jamerson explained, “and the revenue stream doesn’t follow and scale as fast as expenses.”

Jamerson added: “Training and personnel are getting more expensive, equipment and requirements are getting more expensive and ambulances are getting more expensive. And gasoline also becomes more expensive, but reimbursement rates do not.

It doesn’t help, Jamerson said, that the salary offered to potential employees is lower than nearby towns, like Idalou, where they offer paramedics and advanced paramedics $3 an hour more than in Ralls. At Ralls, the salary varies between $8 and $10 an hour and taxes are not deducted.

After his resignation, four other EMS employees left the station. Chris Pickering was named acting director of SMU, but funding issues did not go away. He resigned on July 9.

“When the last four people who quit said it was salary and taxes,” Jamerson said at the meeting, “and we say you have to fix the salary and the answer is a definite no, this has absolutely nothing to do with me or Chris [Pickering]. It has to do with the people making budget decisions in this room. »

Mayor Don Hamilton reminded everyone at the start of the meeting that City Council was not obligated to respond or respond to any of the comments made that evening, so little was said by Council that evening- the.

With Ralls EMS closed, Crosbyton EMS is the only ambulance service in the county. There are only two trucks. Pickering approached city leaders with his primary concern. “Crosbyton has no obligation to respond to 911 calls to Ralls and Lorenzo.”

“They can’t operate on the budget they have and still run this whole county,” he continued. “They’re doing everything they can because they love the citizens of this community, but the day is fast approaching when you could all call 911 and no one answers.”

Pickering said he was “banging his head against the wall” trying to find a way to attract new employees and fix the staffing problem. The only solution he could find is to offer a better salary, which would require reallocating funds from other areas of the budget.

“If Ralls folds, he folds the whole system,” Pickering said. “And the ultimate suffering is for everyone in this room.”

Steve Beck, CEO of Crosbyton Clinic Hospital, said Crosbyton EMS faces the same staffing issue and also serves as a transport service for patients from Crosbyton to Lubbock, so it is not always readily available at all times.

“If you have a team transferring a patient to Lubbock, you have a good 30 to 45 minutes to travel and then go through the process to transfer that patient,” Beck explained. “Then they have to turn around and go back to Crosbyton, so you’re talking about a two hour time frame. When that happens, that county is now without that service.

“Which is more important – the budget or our citizens?” Jamerson asked. “My wife and I have already had the serious conversation of [whether or not] we can feel safe in a community that does not have EMS.

She comes from a long line of inhabitants of Ralls, seven generations in total. While her family has dedicated her life to the health and safety of her hometown through EMS, she now finds herself with the thought, “I don’t know if it’s safer for us to be here. .”

When the doors of City Hall reopened two hours later, Mayor Don Hamilton and council accepted the resignation of Chris Pickering as acting director of EMS and voted for Bobby Beene as his replacement. Two minutes after being called back to the meeting, the meeting was adjourned. Residents were puzzled.

“So are the [EMS] open doors ? Jamerson asked. One council member shrugged, while others provided unclear answers.

Nearly two weeks after the meeting, Kim Perez, the town administrator of Ralls, said Beene had put together a new team for the station and it was now reopened.

Do you have a topical tip? Email Jayme Lozano at [email protected] Follow his reporting on Twitter @jayme_lozano.

About Keneth T. Graves

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