Cass County leaders approve interim ambulance service agreement

Published 1:30 pm Thursday, August 31, 2023

DOWAGIAC — Cass County municipal leaders have approved a new ambulance contract that will keep communities covered for the next three months, at minimum.

The Cass/Van Buren County Services Authority unanimously authorized a 90-day contract agreement with the Central Cass Ambulance Authority and Southwest Michigan Community Ambulance Service for interim ambulance services. 

“Our board, we’ve met three times in the last 10 days,” said CVBESA Chairman Frank Butts, representing Wayne Township. “I think we’re making some good headway. We’re not where we want to be but we’re making progress. The priority is to have health care available to our residents.”

The contract agreement will cost CVBESA municipalities approximately $24,000 per month with the option for renewal after the initial contract expires. 

“People still have to pay if they call to use the ambulance but we’re gonna pay that amount to them so that the ambulance is available,” Butts said. As part of the contract, CVBESA municipalities will have one Advanced Life Support vehicle that will float throughout the service area during the day and will be stationed at CCAA in the evening. 

Butts said mutual aid from neighboring ambulance services will continue to help community members in need.

“We’re still relying on ambulance services around,” Butts said. “Van Buren Emergency Medical Services and Edwardsburg Ambulance Service to help. It never fails – we could have three ambulances like we had before and have five calls, so we still have to have mutual aid.”

CVBESA is responsible for the coordination and the integration of all activities concerning emergency medical services to the residents and visitors of the City of Dowagiac, Penn Township, Silver Creek Township, Wayne Township, Keeler Township, Volinia Township, Pokagon Township and LaGrange Township.

“It’s a good thing that we have seven municipalities – [the City of Dowagiac] and seven municipalities – that are working together,” Butts said. “Normally, units of government don’t work together, so it’s really a good thing.”

SMCAS is a non-profit, municipally-owned and operated advanced life support ambulance service that has provided 24/7 emergency response in Southwest Michigan since 1976, serving residents within the Cities of Buchanan and Niles, as well as Buchanan, Niles, Howard, Bertrand, Milton and a portion of Pokagon Township.

Pokagon Township Supervisor Linda Preston said the SMCAS board of directors agreed to approve the contract as long as it did not cut into any of their service or their funds.

While CVBESA is happy to have an agreement in place, Butts said the long-term goal is to increase the number ALS units in the service area. Under Pride Care, CVBESA had three ALS units, two in Dowagiac and one in Cassopolis.

“We want to have more than one of those,” he said. “To go from three to one is really not acceptable, but right now there’s not enough paramedics. There’s not enough EMTs. So even if we had the money to give to SMCAS and say we want three, they couldn’t do it. They’re growing, we’re growing and we’re working towards the goal. Whether we’ll, whether we’ll be able to have three again, I don’t know but that’s our goal.”

CVBESA will meet again at 5:30 p.m. Monday, Sept. 18, to continue its discussions at Wayne Township Hall.