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Financial concerns remain for Southern Oklahoma Ambulance Service

Michael D. Smith
The Daily Ardmoreite
Emergency vehicles sit outside of the Southern Oklahoma Ambulance Service headquarters on Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2021.

The longtime ambulance service in southern Oklahoma is in survival mode after a devastating year from the ongoing pandemic. The head of Southern Oklahoma Ambulance Service said board members are expected to resume meetings this month as the nonprofit prepares for funding to wither. 

“The financial concerns are still around the corner and board members are going to work on a plan for that,” said SOAS Executive Director Bob Hargis.  

The nonprofit organization has provided ambulance services in southern Oklahoma for almost 60 years and has been funded primarily through grants and endowments. Efforts to raise funds through property tax increases were rejected by voters in 2011 and 2020. 

Ahead of the most recent attempt to raise funds from taxpayers over a year ago, SOAS was facing a shrinking pool of assets to cover operating costs and was running a $700,000 annual deficit. Hargis said at the time that funding mechanisms were unable to keep up with a growing volume of calls, nor has it been able to adjust to irregular reimbursements from Medicare, Medicaid and private insurance. 

On Monday, Hargis said little had changed. “Right now I just don’t have anything new other than we’ve been in a holding pattern,” he said. 

Part of that holding pattern has been the major impact the pandemic has had on emergency staff. Hargis said the organization has gone through several difficult months when as many as 13 employees were out at once.  

Efforts to gather community input about the future of ambulance services in the area also never came to fruition because of the pandemic. “We were planning to have smaller focus group meetings, and then open those up to broader areas to get more and more community involvement,” said Hargis.  

“That just all kind of got squashed,” he said, adding that efforts to hold public meetings may resume. 

The pandemic also provided a $2.2 trillion federal relief package and Hargis said SOAS was able to receive some of those funds. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Serivces, SOAS received $297,108 from the relief package. 

If SOAS is unable to continue providing ambulance services in Carter County, the county commission would be responsible for providing the service. Commission Chair Joe David McReynolds said that commissioners have not had discussions about ambulance services since the January 2020 vote that rejected an emergency ambulance district. 

Commissioner Jerry Alvord, who recently resigned from the SOAS Board of Directors, was unavailable for comment on Tuesday.