SAN LUIS, Ariz. – The San Luis Fire Department has seen a jump in calls to send ambulances to the U.S. Port of Entry, but is getting reimbursed for only a fraction of the cost of providing the emergency assistance, the fire chief says.
Of all the calls the department receives to provide ambulance, 35% are for people who suffer medical problems while crossing or waiting to cross the border, Fire Chief Angel Ramirez said.
“We are seeing a high number of calls,” he said. “On average we are going three times each day to see a patient at the port of entry and transport him to the hospital. It used to be that average was one call per day.”
The fire department answered a total of about 4,200 ambulance calls in the fiscal year that ended in June, Ramirez said, and owing in part to the number of calls for assistance at the border crossing, that number could reach 5,000 this year.
“Calls climb in the fall and winter and even more so at the port of entry, when it’s busier,” he said.
Ramirez said the fire department is getting reimbursed for only about 20% of the ambulance calls to the port because patients aren’t paying the bill.
“Many times the people don’t have a residence here or they don’t have the money. But when we go on a call, we don’t ask if the patient has insurance or some way to pay. We provide the service because that’s our responsibility.”
Elsewhere within its coverage area throughout San Luis, said Ramirez, the fire department is reimbursed for nearly 55% of its ambulance calls, compared with the statewide average of just under 50%.
“We are in a good position (overall),” he said. “With the ambulance revenues, 12 employees are paid and other needs are met. Ideally we would recover more, but we have to continue providing the service.”
When it started out, the ambulance service was subsidized from the city’s general fund, but now patient fees cover all its costs. Ramirez said the goal is for it to remain financially self-sufficient.
Apart from the number of calls for emergency medical assistance at the port of entry, congestion in the downtown San Luis complicates access by ambulances to the port to pick up patients, Ramirez said.
The congestion, he said, stems in part from taxi cabs that park along Urtuzuastegui Street waiting to pick up pedestrians who cross border from Mexico.
The San Luis City Council is expected to approve a resolution requiring cabs to wait farther east of crossing.
“That’s going to make it easier for our (ambulances) to arrive at the port of entry,” Ramirez said. “Right now it’s difficult to circulate in the area, and it’s harder to avoid accidents that could involve people or vehicles, the taxis and their customers.”