New Ambulance Now Serving Rector

Thursday, February 23, 2017
EMT Michael Harris and Paramedic Lisa Cothern serve as the crew for the Rector ambulance.(TD photo/Jane Gatewood)

Blood pressure skyrockets. A child spikes a fever and is listless. It's late on Sunday evening and the heart rate triples. Breathing becomes labored. "Who-ya-gonna-call?"

For a rural community, it is essential for good health care that the residents have adequate ambulance service available. The comfort a community experiences when its residents know that emergency services are just a phone call away is immeasurable. Rector mayor Teresa Roofe indicated a new ambulance serving the community is now in service.

For several months, Rector did not have an ambulance stationed in the community due to "catastrophic fuel system failure of the existing truck," said Arkansas Methodist Medical Center Director of EMS Huston Bowden. "The chassis had over 220,000 miles on it; it's the work horse of the ambulance," he continued.

In six to seven years, the vehicle had made over 3,000 calls (an average of 450 per year) for both emergent and non-emergent situations. Suddenly, Rector and other surrounding areas had no ambulance service in the immediate proximity.

Arkansas Methodist Medical Center in Paragould operates the ambulance service and makes certain that the trucks are fully-equipped with the most modern health care technology that is available. In addition, a trained EMT and paramedic make each run, providing essential care. The ambulance stationed in Rector was out of service -- a replacement became an immediate need.

Arkansas Methodist Medical Center Foundation, the fund-raising arm of AMMC and Bowden collaborated and devised a plan to purchase a new ambulance. Bowden contacted Sherland Hamilton, who had been instrumental in raising funds for the previous ambulance purchase in 2010 and garnered his support for the project. Hamilton "jumped on board and took the reins," Bowden said, for raising the money necessary to replace the failed unit.

Bowden, AMMC Foundation, and Hamilton investigated the best way to proceed for the necessary service to be restored in the most economical way possible. It was determined that replacing the chassis with a new model and upgrading the box could be accomplished for half the cost of a complete new truck. The current box would be upgraded to modern health care standards with new technology and remounted on the new chassis. Even that economical decision would require approximately $70,000, half the cost of buying a new ambulance.

Considering the peace of mind for a rural community when ambulance service is restored, the price was worth the effort to raise the funds. "The return on investment is better in replacing the chassis that is expected to serve between five and seven years. Rector would have a long term asset available to all of Clay County when needed," Bowden remarked.

While residents only need to call 911 and respondents just push a single button to connect with a 24/7 dispatch for ambulance service, raising money for such an enormous project takes far more effort. That's where Hamilton's perseverance and ability came into the picture. His passion made certain ambulance calls did not have to be dispatched from 20 miles away. The assurance that immediate measures to serve the health needs of this area would be available became paramount.

Shay Willis, AMMC's Foundation director and marketing chair, had worked with Hamilton on the last ambulance purchase. Hamilton said Willis and Teresa Vangilder, long-time foundation employee, worked with him to assure that funds raised came under the umbrella of AMMC Foundation's 501C-3 designation. The AMMC would contribute whatever remaining dollars were necessary to make the purchase.

"Sherland Hamilton became the driving force behind the purchase of the new ambulance which is in service now," Willis said. She continued to underscore Hamilton's personal commitment to the project. "It's imperative that our rural communities be served from a hub such as Rector so transport or assistance for the situation can be addressed in a relatively short amount of time. The ambulance can be called for in any direction for anything; sometimes transport is not required. The miles are still there and over the years, these rural miles take their toll."

The entire project called for a complete overhaul and upgrade of the truck "making what's inside the ambulance state-of -the-art," Hamilton said. "The graphics on the box are new. The ambulance has been tested and certified and license obtained." The chassis is sturdy, reliable, operates with a diesel engine, and will be of service for many years.

Paramedic Lisa Cothern and EMT Michael Harris, who serve as a team on Rector's ambulance, are very glad to be stationed here. "The difference in our being in Rector is 30 minutes and when someone needs emergency services, 30 minutes can be the difference in life and death," said Harris. "It's very important that we're here," Cothern said. "Michael and I have commented to each other about that many times. Rector and the surrounding areas need this ambulance."

Willis gave accolades to Hamilton for his personal visits to potential donors, for his willingness to have much of the money raised come from the grassroots of the community. "When the people of the area have contributed to such a major purchase that meets an immediate need, they feel more ownership and are proud of what they, the Foundation and the hospital have accomplished together to provide ambulance service for their community."

Hamilton's fundraising total came to just under $40,000 toward the ambulance. Arkansas Methodist Medical Center paid the difference.

"The (AMMC) Foundation and the hospital are most appreciative to the community of Rector for their support of the project," Willis said. "Certainly, having ambulance service gives residents peace of mind regarding their health needs.

"Later in March, the Foundation will hold an official dedication for the ambulance," Willis said. "At this event, we will invite donors to take part and community residents to attend. We'll get plenty of pictures to further display our gratitude to Rector and to Sherland Hamilton."

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