News From Harlingen, Texas

History of Harlingen's Emergency and Non-emergency Provider

Harlingen, Texas­– Harlingen residents have access to high quality emergency medical services, as well as emergency and non-emergency ambulance and transport service, 24 hours a day every day of the week.


In the mid-1970s, Harlingen residents were without consistent available ambulance service. The city, community leaders, civic organizations, and healthcare providers, including Valley Baptist Medical Center and local doctors, began working on the development of a modern EMS system. The group finalized the creation of a 501(c) (3) non-profit foundation with the purpose of providing emergency medical care and ambulance service to the local community.


In January 1979, the City of Harlingen entered into a contract with Harlingen Community Emergency Care Foundation, Inc., the predecessor of South Texas Emergency Care Foundation, Inc., which to date continues to provide EMS services to its residents.


Because STEC, as a nonprofit foundation, does not have shareholders and is not motivated to make a profit for owners, STEC has been able to keep rates as low as, and, more often than not, lower than most fire department based EMS providers and the dozens of for-profit ambulance companies operating elsewhere in the Rio Grande Valley.  Because STEC does not pay dividends to private owners or bonuses to directors or officers, STEC has been able to reinvest its revenues and income back into the personnel and equipment necessary to provide its patient services.


Today, STEC is the provider of EMS and ambulance services for the residents of Combes, Harlingen, La Feria, Palm Valley, Primera, Rio Hondo, San Benito, and Santa Rosa, as well as, approximately two-thirds of the rural areas of Cameron County.  Each of the eight cities and the Cameron County Emergency Service District are members of STEC and have representatives serving on the STEC board of directors.  Other directors are local hospital representatives, physicians, and community leaders, some of whom have served on the STEC board since the very beginning.  None of the board members are compensated for their service, and there are no financial arrangements between STEC and its member cities including Harlingen.  The City of Harlingen does not pay STEC for its EMS or ambulance services, and STEC does not pay the City.


The contract between STEC and the City of Harlingen requires that at minimum three ambulances be available at all times to respond to 9-1-1 emergency calls from at least one location in the City.  STEC is an emergency medical service provider licensed and regulated by the Texas Department of State Health Services (“TDSHS”) and all of its EMS personnel and ambulances comply with TDSHS requirements and all other applicable State and Federal laws and regulations, as well as the ordinances of Harlingen and its other member cities.


STEC’s actual EMS services to residents in the City of Harlingen far exceed the minimum requirements of the contract. STEC currently has sixteen (16) ambulances in its fleet. Thirteen are based in Harlingen along with four (4) additional first responder units.  Although the contract with the City requires only one location in Harlingen, STEC actually covers the city from four locations including the base at Vermont and 77 Sunshine Strip, a station on Loop 499 between Harrison Avenue and Valley International Airport, and two Harlingen fire stations on Loop 499 and Dixieland Road.  All of STEC’s ambulances which respond to 9-1-1 emergencies are certified by TDSHS as mobile intensive care units (“MICU”) and are equipped and staffed at that level.


Chapter 22, Article II, of the Harlingen Code of Ordinances regulates EMS and emergency and non-emergency services in the City and provides, among other matters, for a contract with an exclusive provider.  The Harlingen ordinance is not unique – either in the Rio Grande Valley or elsewhere in cities across Texas.  Many Valley cities have ordinances or contracts which require or allow exclusive EMS providers and ambulance services in their communities.  The governing body of Harlingen has elected to contract exclusively with STEC at least since 2007 and has made a judgment that such an arrangement is the best way to ensure that its residents have consistent access to high quality EMS services at the low cost provided by highly trained personnel using the most modern and technologically advanced equipment.


The City of Harlingen currently has an exclusive contract with STEC that expires in 2022. Neither the contract nor the ordinance prohibits other EMS providers from transporting patients to hospitals in the City of Harlingen or from making roundtrip ambulance transports beginning and ending on the same day to and from any other Harlingen medical facility and originating from and returning to a location outside Harlingen.


The ordinance is enforced by the Harlingen Police Department but unlicensed providers are not subject to traffic stops with a patient so as not to interfere with any emergency transport.  Thus far in 2019, only one citation has been issued for a violation of the ordinance, and a fine was assessed by the Harlingen Municipal Court.


Since founded in 1979, STEC has responded to more than 575,000 calls for ambulance service in Harlingen and in its other member communities and service areas of Cameron County.  Last year, STEC responded to more than 25,000 calls in those areas including more than 16,000 in Harlingen alone.  STEC’s response times for serious medical emergencies consistently meet or exceed national standards.  For years, the relationship between the City of Harlingen and STEC has fulfilled the original expectations of the group that conceived this nonprofit organization and has justified the City leaders’ judgment to protect and serve the health, safety, and welfare of the residents of Harlingen through the existing arrangement.






Copyright © City of Harlingen, Texas  2016. All rights reserved.

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