BENAVIDES - Residents in Benavides, Concepcion, Ramirez, Rios, Realitos and San Jose, learned that due to financial hardships, the 24-hour ambulance services was in jeopardy.
These residents have paid taxes to the Emergency Service District #2; a portion of the tax money goes to ambulance services. However, according to the ESD#2 board president Orlando Martinez, the money coming in is not enough to support the department's two ambulances.
Ambulance services are provided by Victory EMS out of Benavides. They have two state-of-the-art ambulances that were donated by the Wyatt Ranches. One ambulance runs 24-hours, the other 16-hours and have seven full-time employees.
The ESD #2 receives it's portion of the taxes annually in March and that money is utilized by the department until September when the fiscal year ends.
Due to the financial hardships the ESD #2 borrowed $100,000 from Brad Wyatt, a ESD #2 board member and an administrator of Wyatt Ranches.
At a meeting scheduled in April, the board decided to pay off the loan before the April 26 deadline, which totaled $100,810.96 with interest. The loan had "an unheard of interest rate of two percent."
With budget crunches, the board then parked the 24-hour ambulance to save on that expense and left only the 16-hour ambulance service for residents.
Wyatt said in the meeting that he would have worked with the board on re-payment, but he wasn't consulted.
"I was shocked when I received the payment," Wyatt told residents. "I wasn't present at the meeting and no one consulted me on repayment...I knew we didn't have the money and if I would've known that residents were going to be left without (emergency services) I wouldn't have agreed. I would've found another way or even forgiven the loan."
ESD #2 Attorney Leo Villarreal said that by law they needed to repay the loan or risk violations and second they wouldn't qualify to apply for another loan the following fiscal year if they didn't pay the loan.
Residents were upset because of the decision to pull out the 24-hour ambulance. Melissa Hernandez and other residents explained how the emergency services have assisted many families, but without the service, it can also be deadly.
Benavides resident, Hernandez, told the board her brother had to wait for an ambulance to transport him to a hospital during a heart attack. She said the doctor told her if he had quicker emergency assistance, he may have lived.
Elizar Gonzalez, a resident of Rios, thanked the EMS director for the wonderful work they did with his sister before her passing, but he went on to describe how the EMS wasn't available for him when he had a heart attack years prior. After waiting for about 30 minutes for help, his wife had to call an ambulance from Alice. After another 30 minutes, his wife drove him to San Diego to meet up with the Alice ambulance, which saved his life.
Belinda Everett, who works with Benavides Independent School District, became emotional when she addressed the board. She told them about how thankful she was to EMS for their quick response and medical attention that helped save her 8-year-old grandson's life when he became unresponsive at the school.
Martinez said he understood everyone's concerns, "but the bottom line is figuring out how to pay for it."
Victory EMS receives $21,500 per month or $258,000 per year from the ESD #2 for services.
"I'm not here to point fingers. I'm just saying there's a lot of elderly out there," said Deacon Jesus Ruben Maldonado. "We don't know when we are going to get sick. We might get sick during the 16 hours or the eight hours (when there's no ambulance). We must have a 24-hour service...All we want is 24-hour emergency service. I understand that there's no money, but we entrusted you guys to find a solution."
Wyatt and Billy Wells with the Wyatt Foundation presented the board with a $50,000 donation to supplement services though September.
Despite the generous donation, the board must still find a way to deal with the financial crisis to keep the ambulance services non-stop.