Pharr approves EMS department after legal bout

Pharr city commissioners unanimously approved a second and final reading of the order establishing an Emergency Medical Services Department at Monday evening’s regular meeting.

The reading came nearly a week after a federal bankruptcy judge, David R. Jones ruled in favor of the city’s attempt to purchase all assets from the Hidalgo County Emergency Services Foundation following weeks of hearings in U.S. Bankruptcy Court.

“The city was really contemplating at the end of this fiscal year and the start of the new fiscal year to run EMS ourselves,” interim City Manager Ed Wylie said Tuesday afternoon. “It’s a natural progression. We think we can offer a better quality of service than a private ambulance company. We can control the quality of service a lot better.”

The city will acquire every asset previously owned by Hidalgo County EMS, including roughly 98 ambulances.

Dave Hendricks of the Progress Times initially reported that the city of Pharr had reached an agreement in principle to acquire Hidalgo County EMS. The city approved an ordinance creating the Pharr Emergency Medical Services Department at its April 5 regular meeting of the board of commissioners as well as approving an ordinance amending O-2017-13, Chapter 50, Article III of the City Code of Ordinances Regulating Ambulance Service in the City of Pharr; which would declare the city of Pharr as the “Sole Primary Provider of Emergency Ambulance Service.”

On April 8, state District Judge Roberto “Bobby” Flores signed a temporary restraining order against the city of Pharr, ordering the city to cease and desist from entering into any written or verbal agreement in the attempted purchase of Hidalgo County EMS.

Following the April 19 verbal ruling in favor of Pharr’s purchase, the city could move forward with its $1 million acquisition of the former emergency services company. Wylie said that the $1 million came from federal virus relief funds, adding that taxpayer money was not used.

The purchase came after Hidalgo County EMS filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in October 2019. Wylie called the Hidalgo County EMS bankruptcy unfortunate, yet timely for the city of Pharr.

“We’re putting good things out for the citizens,” Wylie said. “The team that we put together is very good. The leaders that we have are very good. The medics we’re picking up — we’re going to train them the Pharr way. We pride ourselves in customer service and being the best that we can be.”

Wylie said that a budget amendment approved during Monday’s meeting has a revenues section attached to it which explained that the new department is not a debt service, and will be self-sustainable.

The city is currently in the process of negotiating new contracts with the entities previously serviced by Hidalgo County EMS including the city of Penitas, Sullivan City, Hidalgo County Precinct 3, and Hidalgo County Emergency Services District No. 2.

Pharr EMS will serve as a backup to the city of Mission, and the city of Edinburg and Hidalgo County Emergency Services No. 3 have opted to contract with alternate EMS companies.

Pharr has already begun the process of filling positions for its new department. According to the city manager, the department is looking to fill a minimum of 30 positions, but that number could climb to as many as 75 depending on whether the city is able to acquire contracts of the mentioned entities.

“It’s a big endeavor,” Wylie said. “This commission and this city administration has worked really hard to turn this around and make a lot of opportunities better for the citizens and for the city. This is another step in that direction. This is something nobody’s doing. This is something no other city wanted to do.

“We’re in a position to make a difference, and that’s what we want to do.”