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Tahlequah City Hospital EMS Paramedic Terry Braden enters the back of one of TCH EMS’ ambulances outside EMS headquarters. Some discussion has been had on consolidating ambulance services, but no formal action has been taken to combine the two entities.

Some health care officials across the state think consolidation of rural ambulance services may keep them from collapsing.

In Cherokee County, Tahlequah City Hospital and Cherokee Nation, operate ambulance services. Neither is in danger of collapsing, but both say consolidation is a familiar topic.

"The conversation usually comes up somewhere at least once a year," said Kyle Kuhns, who heads the TCH emergency medical service crew. "It's always someone from outside both local services that starts talking about it."

Kuhns said the state administrator has pitched a proposal that would not put any of the services out of business. He said the combined services would share purchasing power.

Statewide, the topic came up again when communities in Billings, Clayton and Vici-Camago lost their ambulance services.

Jimmy Summerlin, director of CNEMS, said there has been some discussion of combining local services.

"There have been several meetings, discussions and proposals between the local agencies," Summerlin said. "At this time, although the idea of having one consolidated ambulance service possibly has some advantages, it is a very complex proposal, in part because Cherokee Nation EMS is much more than just an ambulance service."

Kuhns said combining the two entities would be a "political and logistical mountain," given the makeup of the two services.

"We do share some dispatch duties," Kuhns said. "We both have 911 dispatchers 24-7 and they sit next to each other and cover for each other when one is busy."

He said consolidation could help with paramedic training because it could be held here, and the agencies wouldn't have to pay travel expenses.

Shawn Rogers, director of emergency medical services for the state Health Department, told the Associated Press other services are teetering on the brink of closure.

He said towns will have to combine ambulance services into regional hubs to reverse a trend that has seen 48 close in the past seven years.

Oklahoma has about 160 basic ambulance services.

"I think it's only a matter of time before we see people open to that," Rogers told the AP. "The EMS system in rural Oklahoma is going to continue to collapse unless there's action taken."

Greg Reid, chair of Gov. Brad Henry's ambulance task force, told reporters he hoped consolidation benefits would be apparent to agencies.

"We know the history of emergency medical services has seen local communities take a certain amount of pride, and they want to have a certain amount of say in their ambulance service and what level," Reid told the AP. "As they start working together, they will start to see benefits of working for each other."

The task force recommendations include allocating $5 million a year to rural ambulance services for the next four years; lifting the constitutional cap on property taxes communities can levy for ambulance service; and increasing distance-learning opportunities for emergency medical technicians.

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