West Side Community Ambulance has started staffing a third unit in order to resume primary coverage of the Santa Nella area.

Michael Courtney, director of ambulance operations, said that West Side has been posting a 12-hour car in Santa Nella on Fridays and Saturdays since early July as staffing is available.

The Santa Nella area - and Highway 152 up to Dinosaur Point - is technically the service area of West Side Community Ambulance but Riggs Ambulance has been providing coverage in that area as well, Courtney explained.

“It is basically (response by) the closest unit,” said Courtney, who estimated that Riggs and West Side had been running an equal amount of calls into that territory.

Whether West Side adds days of Santa Nella coverage depends on both staffing availability and the call volume, he added.

“’We need to look at the numbers and make sure that it is financially feasible to keep moving forward. It will be a phased-in process,” he said.

West Side has been able to put the third car in service each Friday but not every Saturday due to staffing, Courtney told Mattos Newspapers. Those days were chosen because they generate the highest call volume in the area.

The district, which staffs two 24-hour units, is in the process of recruiting additional personnel with the goal of staffing the third, part-time car on a daily basis.

Having the third unit is a benefit to the remainder of the West Side Community Healthcare District’s service area, Courtney noted, as that ambulance moves into place to cover the Gustine-Newman area if the two other cars are out on calls.

Budget

The West Side Healthcare District Board of Directors at its July 28 meeting approved an operational budget for the 2020-21 fiscal year.

The budget underscores how much the district writes off each year for contractual adjustments - and its reliance on tax revenues to close the operating gap.

Ambulance revenue is estimated at $7 million, according to the budget, but $5.5 million is written off in contractual allowances and adjustments.  That leaves a net ambulance revenue of $1.4 million against operating expenses of $2.2 million.

That gap is largely offset by an anticipated $661,000 in tax revenues (from property tax allocations and the Measure A assessment).

When other miscellaneous income is factored in, the budget projects a net operating loss of just over $37,000 for the year.

Courtney said the goal will be to erase that deficit to at least break even on the year.

“It is definitely tight,” he said of the budget. “We have to get really lean and watch our dollars. That is why we are phasing in the Santa Nella car.”

Payroll - at $1.17 million - represents the largest expenditure for the ambulance service.

In order to control costs, Courtney said, the district will avoid staffing a unit with two paramedics whenever possible and try to keep overtime to a minimum.

The personnel cost of staffing a unit with a paramedic and EMT is lower than that of having two paramedics staff a car.