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Will politics prevail in Shreveport ambulance decision?

What seemed to be just a routine bureaucratic decision, even on the surface an attempt to introduce more efficiency, instead has enraged certain Shreveport citizens and has sent the Mayor Keith Hightower in search of money he already has spent on monuments to himself and to government.

Recently, Shreveport Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran proposed to move a paramedic unit from Fire Station 19 on Ellerbe Road to Fire Station 9 on St. Vincent Avenue. A cursory overview of the situation at first could support Cochran’s decision: the area around #9 had over 1,500 calls that resulted in medical transport in 2004 while the area around #19 had around 500. The former station does not currently have a unit stationed there so by relocating response times would be cut around that station, but would increase substantially in the area around #19.

However, reaction to the proposed move proved so negative that Cochran put it off. The burgeoning population in the southeastern part of Shreveport would argue response times would become unacceptable with units having to travel such a distance in life-threatening situations. Nor would relocation of a unit to Fire Station 20, somewhat further to the east, help much because it would have to cross rail lines which could have trains holding up help at a crucial moment.

The outcry also provoked Hightower into promising the purchase and staffing of a ninth ambulance, which will costs hundreds of thousands of dollars and hundreds of thousands more annually to staff and run it – this at a time where the city is so strapped for funds, thanks to Hightower’s and his Democrat City Council allies’ huge commitments in building and running a convention center and hotel, that it has to cut the city grants to nonprofits organizations and has allowed a huge infrastructure backlog to accumulate.

But is this extra purchase necessary, or is the realignment even necessary? Presumably, ambulance transport with specialized personnel becomes necessary in serious, especially life-or-death, situations. Medical units should not be sent out unless that standard is met. And a quick look at relevant statistics makes one question whether calls for service around #9 meet this criterion relative to the need around #19.

For one thing, theoretically a greater population is served in the area around #19. In its range are census tracts 239.1, 239.2, and 240 that in 2000 had 18,789 people. Tracts 233, 237, and 238 are served by #9, totaling 16,169. Further, the population around #19 has a higher median age – 36.4 years compared to the area served by #9 of 34.2, meaning there are more elderly people who are more likely to need emergency medical services.

One could argue the relatively poorer area around #9, with a median household income of $22,112 annually, might not have private transportation as readily available as the area around #19, with its median household income of $59,223 per annum. But that’s only slightly true; the former averages three persons per vehicle and the other two persons per vehicle. That is, why does an area with one-third less private transportation still manage to have three times the number of transports than the other?

Or, to put it another way, in the #9 area, there was one transport of a presumably serious medical condition for less than every 11 residents while #19 had such a transport for one out of every almost 38 residents. How could there be, on a per capita basis, 3.5 times more serious cases in one part of town than another?

The answer, of course, is there can’t be and that the residents around #9 very likely are making numerous calls and then subsequently using emergency services for non-emergency reasons way out of proportion to those around #19. This is something the city should commit to investigating before any money is spent on new ambulance services or any relocation is done. Apparently, the city is making very hesitant, tentative steps to do this, even if only to provide political cover.

Yet if the city does this rational thing, it needs to prepare itself for the inevitable complaints that leaders of a majority-black city are buckling under to the demands of mostly wealthy, mainly white neighborhoods (the area served by #9 is about 80 percent black; the area served around #19 is about 80 percent white). Irony would abound in that case: the proportion of tax dollars paid to support that service (and actual dollars – the poor usually pay nothing out of pocket for an ambulance ride) by those who would suffer from the switch far exceeds that of those who use it more than thrice as much.

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