Mark Majors, owner and CEO of MedExpress Ambulance Services, said that the two stations opening in Vernon Parish were never supposed to happen. It wasn’t until last year when a significant number of first responders started voicing their concerns and complaints about long wait times for an Acadian Ambulance to respond that he stepped in and decided to make a change.
They have had a presence in Vernon Parish since October 2018 and Thursday evening they officially cut the ribbon on their Leesville station and training center cementing their intent to stay.
Majors filed a permit request to operate within Vernon Parish in November 2018 that is still pending.
Until that permit is either granted or denied MedExpress is not legally permitted to operate within the parish unless they are specifically asked for by a first responder on the scene if a determination is made that waiting for an Acadian unit would be detrimental, or they are called to dispatch a unit directly.
MedExpress does have occupational permits with the City of Leesville and the Village of Anacoco allowing them to operate within their respective city limits.
However, they still face a barrier. Kenneth Moore, Director of the Vernon Parish Office of Homeland Security & Emergency Preparedness, explained that Vernon Parish does not have a 911 rotation procedure or policy.
Fairly recently they implemented the current police because of the ambulance situation affecting Vernon Parish since November 2018.
“The current policy is that if requested, because we do not dispatch, we transfer. If requested (by first responders) we will transfer to Acadian or MedExpress,” Moore said.
Moore further explained that the police jury is trying to come up with a system that will result in a “fair and equal way to service the residents and make sure that people are getting the help they need in an expeditious manner.”
That is why he developed the “upon request” policy. “I’m not going to second guess what a first responder on the scene is looking at,” Moore said.
MedExpress has been providing rural EMS service for 26 years. They currently operate in Avoyelles, Rapides, Sabine, St. Landry, Vernon Perishes providing Advanced Life Support Ambulances, Basic Life Support Ambulances, Paramedic Sprint Units and Wheelchair Vans.
They are dedicated to serving the residents of Leesville, Anacoco and Vernon Parish with emergency and non-emergency ambulance transports and training opportunities. They are adding 15 permanent jobs and will operate a minimum of two Advanced Life Support Ambulances in the parish.
In 2001 MedExpress was awarded a major contract by the U.S. government to provide emergency and non-emergency services to military personnel and their families at Louisiana's Fort Polk military base.Additionally, Med Express is a primary contractor for medical staffing support for the MegaShelter and other disaster-related projects.
But unfortunately, the rumor mill and a good deal of gossip have tarnished their name and service in the community.
At the November 6, 2018, Vernon Parish Police Jury meeting it was stated that MedExpress was the company providing ambulance service in the parish who packed up and moved out leaving the parish without EMS coverage for 24 hours. This is in-fact a lie.
The transcript of the April 20, 1998 Vernon Parish Police Jury meeting that was attended by Jim Tuck, Billy Williams, Jimmy Fontenot, Lavaughn Roshong, Jimmie James, Oscar Haymon, Reid Weeks, Melvin Haymon, Curtis Clay and Ray Pynes heard from Cecil Guilbeau, Vice President of Operations with Acadian Ambulance that effective May 1, 1998 Acadian would be acquiring Lifecare Ambulance Service and requested the police jury grant Acadian a permit to operate in Vernon Parish.
A Mr. Meaux with Lifecare addressed the police jury and informed them that Acadian took over operations of Lifecare on April 18, 1998 and asked that they allow Acadian to operate under the Lifecare permit until the police jury granted Acadian their own.
MedExpress was not operating in Vernon Parish prior to 2007.
Rumors have also circulated that MedExpress is bankrupt or has a history of filing bankruptcies. This too is a lie.
MedExpress has had one Chapter 11 bankruptcy that was “from a contested assessment by the IRS following Hurricane Katrina. We were discharged from Chapter 11 several years ago after filing to stop levy of federal payments, specifically from DOD contracts and Medicare. The balance of the agreed amount is paid monthly and the liens are being released as the balance is paid down” Major said when questioned about this.
Finally, rumors are still circulating that calls from a state senator were made to several members of the police jury threatening to pull state issued funding if MedExpress was granted a permit to operate in Vernon Parish.
After some investigating the Leesville Daily Leader asked Senator John Smith on January 1, 2019, if he was the one who made these calls. This is the full unedited transcript of his response:
“Most municipal and parish governments call upon their st senator when confronted with overwhelming issues which may require an additional or different level of expertise, experience and research. I answer that call in any and all parishes I have the honor to serve. That's exactly what I did in the recent debate concerning emergency ambulance transportation services for the citizens of Vernon Parish. And, yes that included contacting and discussing with each Police Juror the emergency transportation issues and providing statistics surrounding each company that could help to make the best comprehensive long term decision, not just for an individual jury district, constituent or friend but for every citizen in our parish. I have no authority in the selection or certification of an ambulance service in Vernon Parish or any other Parish. But, I have every responsibility to assure, protect and help local governments provide the most comprehensive, long term emergency transportation services and financially stable emergency transportation services availability. This issue does not lend itself to spontaneous decision making. We should require each proposal of service for emergency transportation be presented with audit accountability and complete judicial disclosures including any and all court ordered financial judgments or bankruptcy or court ordered directives. Vernon Parish, like most small population parishes with large geographical size areas to provide emergency response services for must continue to review an analysis current services and strive to provide long term financially solvent emergency services.
Although, this issue is closer to home, I have debated these type issues
virtually ever day for the past thirty one years in the Louisiana legislature and will continue to choose solutions which provide for all citizens equally.
I have been honored by the citizens of district 30 to have been elected to eight consecutive terms in the Louisiana Legislature and especially humbled to serve as one of only thirty nine senators elected from over four million citizens stay wide. I 'm humbled each day to continue to serve.
One of the the most over whelming needs in our senate district is funding for municipal and parish governments wherelocal sales taxes and local property taxes fail to meet the infrastructure and educational needs of many communities throughout our district. I have dedicated an extremely large percentage of my legislative efforts towards helping these communities secure fundings for their needs. So, it seems absurd for someone to suggest that I would deny funding for such a valued need as emergency medical transportation for our citizens. Just to make it clear that is a total lie and I don't believe anyone would be foolish enough to come forward and contradict what I have said.
There's an old adage, .... if the facts are not on your side just make up your own. Some may have reached that point in this issue.”
Everyone on all sides of this situation have the same goal; to provide the best possible emergency service to the residents of Vernon Parish.
No one wants to see their loved one suffering because of delayed response times if a unit is either on another call or transporting a patient to another hospital.
If having two services available to fulfill the ambulance service needs within the parish, and the service is financially sustainable for both companies, which they currently are, what is the harm in having both of them working side-by-side, providing the service Vernon Parish residents need and demand?
Individual calls from the Leesville Daily Leader to police jury members requesting comment or answers regarding this issue have gone unanswered at this time.
It is now up to the residents of Vernon Parish.
If you are seeing an improvement in the services and response times by having two companies servicing the parish, it is your responsibility to call your district representatives and demand they make a decision on granting MedExpress a permit to operate in Vernon Parish and for calls to be equally transferred to the closest unit to the scene or next available.
Remaining silent, regardless of your opinion, could mean that you, or your loved one, may be the one suffering while waiting for a unit to respond. Demand that the officials you have elected do their job to properly protect the residents of Vernon Parish.
After Majors cut the ribbon an AirEvac helicopter flew over a cheering crowd. “We have a budget approval to station a helicopter in Vernon Parish if the permit is approved,” Majors said.