Hidalgo County allocates final ambulance to Mercedes

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The third and final ambulance that Hidalgo County purchased in 2023 using federal COVID-19 relief dollars now has a new home: the city of Mercedes.

County leaders unanimously approved of an interlocal agreement during a meeting on Tuesday that will station the $350,000 emergency response vehicle with the Mercedes Fire Department.

The agreement follows two others the county made with the cities of Palmview and Mission, which — like Mercedes — operate city-owned, fire department-based EMS services.

“This is a testament that they (county leaders) trust you guys and that’s a big deal,” Mercedes Mayor Oscar Montoya said during a Mercedes City Commission meeting in early January.

Montoya was speaking to Mercedes’ fire chief, Javier Campos Jr., shortly after the chief had delivered a presentation on the proposed interlocal agreement.

City officials enthusiastically approved Mercedes’ half of the agreement during that meeting.

As with Mission and Palmview, the county has agreed to lease the fully-equipped ambulance to Mercedes for one year at a rate of $10 per month. Mercedes will be responsible for staffing the ambulance and restocking perishable equipment, such as medicines and medical supplies.

The ambulance will be added to Mercedes’ existing fleet of three ambulances, and will help give the city some breathing room in the event that an ambulance has to be taken out of service for repairs or maintenance.

“The way our department will utilize this unit will be to increase ambulances to lower mechanical costs across the board while maintaining units and service,” Campos told commissioners.

The new unit will also allow Mercedes to more easily provide standby EMS service at community events while maintaining readiness to respond to emergency calls that come in through the 9-1-1 system, Campos said.

However, unlike the agreements with Palmview and Mission, Mercedes is not being asked to increase their service area, the chief said.

“This will not come with manpower, again. It will not increase call volume, it will not increase coverage area, but will be an additional apparatus for our fleet,” Campos said.

Last January, county leaders approved the purchase of the three ambulances to help alleviate service gaps created after Pharr EMS pulled out of contracts to service the county’s most rural areas.

The city of Pharr had taken over those contracts after purchasing its ambulance fleet from the bankruptcy estate of Hidalgo County EMS, a private, for-profit ambulance company that had filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 2019.

Despite its name, Hidalgo County EMS was not affiliated with Hidalgo County, the government entity.

For years, however, Hidalgo County EMS had provided ambulance service in rural areas at no cost to the county before it eventually floundered in bankruptcy and was forced to liquidate all its assets.

In late 2022, Pharr EMS notified the county that it would no longer be servicing those rural contracts. That sent county leaders scrambling to cobble together service agreements with other private ambulance service providers, such as Skyline EMS.

Though the county continues to contract for rural ambulance service, officials came up with the ambulance purchase plan in hopes of reducing the county’s reliance on those contracts.

Hidalgo County spent more than $887,000 in American Rescue Plan Act funds to purchase the three ambulances, and another $426,000 to purchase five 2023 Chevy Silverado pickup trucks to serve as “quick response emergency units,” county records show.