Photo Caption: EMT Tyler Baker checks out his supply manifest Tuesday before heading out to transport patients for the day.
A statewide non-profit ambulance service has recently set up shop at a location in Athens, and hopes to find another location in town soon.
MedCare Ambulance, based in Columbus, grew out of the same operation as Medflight, which has been offering helicopter service for emergency patients for the last 15 years. MedCare, which started up a couple of years ago, has recently moved into a facility at 525 Richland Ave.
Philip Koster, vice president of operations for MedCare in Ohio, explained Tuesday that the ambulance service was created mainly to provide a transport option for patients facing medical problems that are serious, but not immediately life-threatening – a condition for which "you don't need to go by helicopter because it's really not that critical." Patients might be transported to a hospital, a doctor's office, their home, or a nursing home, he said.
MedCare had already been operating in Athens County, getting many of its referrals from O'Bleness Memorial Hospital in Athens and Doctors Hospital in Nelsonville, before it secured the Richland Avenue site.
The company provides ambulance rides on a fee-for-service basis, Koster said, but because it's a non-profit, can charge less than some for-profit companies.
"We are very charity-driven," he said. "By design, we will write off some accounts… This is health care, and we won't turn anyone away."
He noted that MedCare's employees are fully trained emergency personnel – some of whom work or have worked for county services or area for-profit ambulance companies – and its vehicles have the equipment to handle full-blown medical emergencies if they should arise during transport.
MedCare could also serve as a first responder in emergency situations if needed to supplement county ambulance services, he said, noting that the company had extra units available during Athens' last uptown Halloween bash, and that during the big storm late last June that knocked out power to much of the county, MedCare had a small fleet of ambulances ready to provide service here.
"I got a call that Saturday morning," Koster recalled. "We had 14 ambulances on their way here."
Koster said MedCare decided to move into the Athens area because it saw the region as having a need both for more ambulance service and better quality service.
With 250 employees statewide and 37 ambulances, Koster said, MedCare will have a staff of about 20 people working in Athens, and, he added, they aren't Columbus transplants.
"Everybody here is somebody who either lives or works locally," he said.
While he's still looking for another Athens location, Koster said, he felt he had to rent the Richland Avenue space to have a place to park the ambulances and give the employees a base of operations, rather than have them hanging out in hospital parking lots all day.
"I just couldn't wait any longer," he explained.