On Wednesday afternoon, October 18th, Rio Grande City Mayor Joel Villarreal met with leaders from across Starr County as well as with officials from Starr County Memorial Hospital (SCMH) to discuss the future of Emergency Medial Services (EMS) provided by the community.
At the meeting, SCMH Board members discussed several issues negatively impacting emergency medical services available to the community including a shortage of both resources and staff.
"Today we have just thirty-two emergency medical service personnel in our department," declared Starr County Memorial Board president Dr. Jose Vasquez MD. "We have nine ambulances. And out of those nine ambulances, we have just five running."
Speaking for the Board, Dr. Vasquez called for the creation of an Ambulance District (AD) as a possible option to address the above-mentioned issues, as well as overall funding for services.
An ambulance district is a special taxing district that provides ambulance services to a defined geographic area. Ambulance districts are governed by a board of directors who are appointed by the county commissioners court. The board has the authority to levy taxes, issue bonds, and enter into contracts to provide ambulance services.
Rio Grande City Mayor Joel Villarreal acknowledged the concerns raised by SCMH but did not agree that the creation of an Ambulance District would be the best solution. "I oppose the creation of any new taxing district, simply because it's another level of bureaucracy," said RGC Mayor Joel Villarreal, adding that the City of Rio Grande City is open to being a part of any other type of solutions that would not involve raising taxes for residents.
Critics against the formation of ambulance districts say they may lack accountability because they are governed by a board of directors who are appointed by the county commissioners court. Some argue that this system is flawed because it allows board members to be appointed with very little public input, which can lead to a lack of representation for some residents.
Some organizations have also criticized ambulance districts for being inefficient and wasteful with taxpayer dollars. Critics argue that ADs often duplicate services that are already provided by other agencies, which can lead to unnecessary spending.
The meeting, which was held at the South Texas College Starr County Campus, concluded with all parties involved agreeing further discussion of all issued raised is necessary, however, most disagreed with the idea that creating a new taxing entity would be the right solution.
"As we tackle this dilemma, let’s operate with the premise of what's in the best interest to the taxpayers that we represent in the community that we serve," added Mayor Villarreal.