By Pat Maurer
The United Rescue Ambulance Authority was formed in 2011, but United Rescue’s ambulance has been servicing the northern part of Clare County since 1974. Last Friday evening the United Services Authority Board met and voted to close the garage down.
Until Monday, both Mobile Medical Response and United Rescue had been providing ambulance service in Clare County sharing the territory as part of a county arrangement. After Monday, MMR will be the sole provider of ambulance service in Clare County.
Since 2010, United Rescue has been at odds with MMR, the non-profit Saginaw based ambulance transport service, which before then had serviced only the southern part of Clare County. After the Clare County Commission allowed the UR’s territorial agreement to expire as recommended by their legal council, MMR began promoting its service in the northern townships.
Citizen complaints prompted controversy at several County Commission meetings last year, with the issues of response times, dispatch problems and paid subscription service, (purchased earlier through United Rescue) that was not honored by MMR if their service responded to an ambulance call.
In January, some of those concerned citizens formed the Independent Citizens for Ambulance & Rescue Efficiency (I.C.A.R.E.) and took their concerns to the county board.
Mobile Medical Response operations manager Jason MacDonald had denied the problems, saying at one of the meetings that the company had an average response time of 12 minutes and that their dispatch system is state-of-the-art.
At a County Commission meeting last February, former Clare County 911 Director Keith Yats verified that the nearest ambulance was sent out on calls. He said a court case between the county and United Rescue Ambulance Service resulted in the elimination of segregated areas, named in a 2007 contract, for each ambulance service. “State law and the court says we have to dispatch the closest ambulance,” he said then.
Since that time, United Rescue has been losing money and patients to MMR and the company has incurred massive debts, reportedly caused by bad decisions and poor management.
In August a Primary ballot proposal had asked for .9 mills for five years in the townships of Franklin, Frost, Greenwood Hamilton, Hayes, Redding and Summerfield and in the city of Harrison. The request, which would have raised over $400,000 annually for United Rescue operations, was defeated by 1,052 to 808, with only Harrison and Summerfield Township voters approving the proposal by a very narrow margin.
Although United Rescue is no longer in operation, Clare County Undersheriff Dwayne Miedzianowski said both they and MMR have been very supportive about taking care of the public interest and needs. “The transition is going well. We have talked to both entities and haven’t had any problems with either service. Anything we needed they have helped us with.” He said he had met with MMR officials Wednesday about any possible changes. “They said they would continue service as usual,” he said.
In a phone interview Wednesday, MMR’s manager MacDonald said, “The main thing we want to get out there to the people of Clare County is that MMR has been covering the county and we are going to continue to do that. We have already ramped up the service to meet the demand for the whole county.”
He continued, “We will still have excellent service and timely response times. I believe there is excellent coverage right now based on our data and data from the county’s 911 department. We have a “hub” between Clare and Farwell, one in Harrison and another in Lake George. More hubs will be added if they are needed.
MMR also provides dispatch and service in ten counties and manages a county-run system in an 11th county. They use a computer aided dispatch system (CAD) based in Saginaw.
Clare County Sheriff John Wilson said, “I would like to take a moment to thank United Rescue Ambulance Service, its board members, and employees for their 40 years of service to the citizens of Clare County. It is sad to see the loss of any public safety entity, but their service has been commendable. Your Sheriff Department and Central Dispatch, in a collaborative effort with all other public safety agencies, will continue to strive to serve Clare County in the best way possible.”