Gonzales residents concerned about privatization of EMS services

GONZALES, LA (WAFB) - Senior citizens in Gonzales are worried a change in emergency medical services could hurt them.

Three city councilmen are considering bringing in a private company to replace a service the fire department already provides free of charge.

The Gonzales Fire Department does more than just put out fires. A team of 14 firemen also responds to medical emergencies.

Chief Tracey Normand said it makes up 70 percent of the department's calls.

"In four and a half minutes we can render advanced life support care, which is critical," Normand said.

To keep that response time under five minutes, Chief Normand has proposed that the city hire a private company to take care of billing.

"What we're asking for is an improvement on the billing side of it, not to replace our service," Normand said.

Normand's proposal was rejected by three councilmen, Terance Irvin, Gary Lacombe and Timothy Vessel. They, instead, want to look into other options such as doing away with the fire department's EMS services and replacing it with a private company.

"I have not received one complaint about our ambulance service, about our EMS. It makes you wonder why on earth we would even bring this up," Mayor Barney Arceneaux said.

On Wednesday, Arceneaux received a letter signed by 42 senior citizens who stated they are happy with the current services.

Alice Ducote, a senior citizen who lives in Gonzales, drafted the letter. She and others who have called on the fire department for medical help said they are concerned a private company will cost them.

"For a senior on a fixed income that's very important. That's one of the key reasons why we would like to keep it, besides fact their response time is very good," Ducote said.

Medical Director for the Gonzales Fire EMS program, Dr. Chris Travino, said residents should be concerned.

"A relatively small EMS program like ours that has direct involvement with a physician medical director at that level provides immediate feedback at a level at which large companies, just because of their scope and scale, have a really hard time matching," Travino said.

That's why the mayor said he intends to fight to keep the service and begin taking the steps necessary to make life easier for the men who provide it.

"The chief has asked for this. I think he has been very patient. I've been very patent and it's just time to bring it to the forefront,"

Mayor Arceneaux said he will bring up the matter at the city's next meeting on Monday.

Councilmen Irvin, Lacombe and Vessel declined an on camera interview.

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