Morongo Basin Ambulance: A Non-Profit Serving the Basin for 75 Years
By Lisa Lynn Morgan
Long before I started publishing Joshua Tree Voice, I was astonished by the number of incredible efforts from kindhearted, passionate, community-minded people in the greater Joshua Tree area actively doing great things. After several conversations with the team at Morongo Basin Ambulance and a tour of their facility in Joshua Tree, I am once again overwhelmed with appreciation. This humble, yet well-equipped and expertly trained, small army of first responders left me with a renewed confidence in humanity and my potential safety should I ever face a medical crisis in the area. This team is a family unit built to serve its community, and it’s one we can all be proud of.
This year marks the 75th Anniversary Morongo Basin Ambulance (MBA). While it has been here for three quarters of a century, many don’t realize that MBA is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that has been serving a 2,700 square mile area of San Bernardino County since its journey started back in 1948. Back then, they were known as Joshua Tree Ambulance, but changed their name to match their service area. They are the sole provider of 9-1-1 emergency ambulance services to the cities of Joshua Tree, Twentynine Palms, Morongo Valley, Pioneertown, Rimrock, Flamingo Heights, Landers, Johnson Valley, Wonder Valley, and Amboy as well as the Joshua Tree National Park, and the secondary provider for Yucca Valley. MBA is called into service when San Bernardino County Fire ambulances are on other calls.
No tax dollars are used to fund this service. MBA operates primarily on reimbursements from Medicare/MediCal and private insurances. No patient is ever turned away due to an inability to pay. “We have many customers who are financially struggling,” shared Rich Middlebrough, President of the MBA Board of Directors. “We willingly work with them to set up a payment plan with which they are comfortable.”
Rich Middlebrough has served on the MBA board for over 12 years. Rich retired from the Newport Beach Fire Department as a Captain in December 2002. He was asked to join the board because he had practical experience, supervisory, and administrative skills. He joined because he wanted to ensure this huge piece of San Bernardino County had the best qualified ambulance personnel and equipment to serve the many high desert cities, towns and adjoining rural communities.
Joshua Tree Voice was invited to tour the facility in Joshua Tree (they also have a station in Yucca Valley located on Sage Avenue, just south of 29 Palms Highway). We were greeted by Operations Chief/EMT-P, Craig Bell. Bell is the son of a firefighter but didn’t feel inclined to follow in his father’s footsteps until a neighbor’s child came to him for help with trouble breathing. Not knowing what to do for the child in that situation moved him to educate himself. In doing so, he found his passion. The unique family unit dynamic that is very much a Joshua Tree community thing has kept him at MBA and proud to be part of keeping the institution alive.
The facility in Joshua Tree includes an office for dispatchers, accounting, and administration, as well as sleeping quarters (on the rare occasion the emergency staff can actually get some sleep). They’re provided with a common area, a full kitchen, and some free weights to help stay in shape when time allows.
“The biggest challenge we’ve had over the years,” shared Bell, “is with reimbursement. MediCal pays a very small fraction of what we bill. It barely covers the staffing to get out to the call. An additional challenge, with that reimbursement specifically, is that a bill was recently passed for additional funding for public providers, but MBA is not classified as a public provider because we don’t take tax revenue.” While administration staff works hard at applying for grants, and labor over the strenuous job of getting reimbursed from insurance companies and government agencies, public financial support is vital.
As we toured the facility, one of the ambulances pulled in. While the EMT field is very male dominated, it was refreshing to see EMT, Sydney Anderson, hop out of the vehicle all smiles. Anderson shared that she had just passed the second part of her Paramedic Entrance Exam which prompted an enthusiastic high five from the Chief (which we immediately made the bashful Sydney replay for the camera). “We reimburse up to $6,000 towards full time EMTs after they have reclassified as a paramedic,” shared Bell. “We also work around their school schedule to allow them to get the training completed. Sydney will be eligible once she is accepted into the Paramedic Academy.”
Operations Chief Craig Bell celebrates Sydney Anderson passing part two of her Paramedic Entrance Exam
Here’s a list of important things most people don’t know about MBA:
MBA is one of only three ambulance agencies in San Bernardino County selected to test in-field ultrasound technology to identify internal injuries or issues in critically injured patients in the field. This technology has been vital in providing emergency care and has been used successfully for the last several months.
MBA is one of the very few ambulance providers in the state of California who will have Certified Critical Care Paramedics. These paramedics can treat critically ill or injured patients as they are transported to a hospital offering the higher level of care they need. “Historically, we have depended on Certified RNs to assist us in this transport,” offered Middlebrough. “However, many times, especially recently due to the pandemic, RNs have not been available. The only other option for this critical care transport is a very expensive air ambulance service which many insurances to not cover. Our Certified Critical Care Paramedics will commence this
service in late spring after completing their in-hospital ICU internships.”
If you are driving to the Colorado River, Amboy, or Johnson Valley and an accident occurs, MBA is the service that will take care of you.
MBA offers a membership program for individuals and families. With this program MBA accepts what insurance pays, and the patient is not responsible for the balance. Individual cost is $100 per year for an individual and $150 per year for a family. Information and membership may be obtained online or by calling MBAA at (760) 366-8474 during business hours.
If a paramedic determines a patient needs to be taken to the hospital, by law, they must be taken to the closest receiving hospital. A patient or family member may not specify their hospital of choice – it must be the closest receiving hospital. It’s the law.
MBA provides Basic Life Support (BLS) services, including defibrillation with an Automatic External Defibrillator (AED) administered by Certified Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs) and Advanced Life Support (ALS) services provided by Certified Paramedics utilizing intravenous (IV) fluids and ultrasound technology, to name a few.
MBA is the only ambulance service in the Morongo Basin doing medical transports. For example, if a patient at Hi-Desert Medical Center needs to be transported to another hospital, MBA will handle that transfer.
MBA employs full time and part time Paramedics, EMTs, CCT RNs, and Communications Operators. They also provide opportunities to gain experience by offering a limited number of positions in their Reserve program. Local high school youth can also get involved and gain valuable experience by participating in their Explorer program!
WHY MBA NEEDS OUR SUPPORT:
Because MBAA will never refuse service to someone based on their ability to pay, this has resulted in many billing write-offs. In addition, approximately 70% of our community is considered low income and depend on Medicare/Medical. While Medicare/MediCal reimbursements have not increased in the last 20 years, the costs for ambulances, medical supplies, personnel, etc. have escalated dramatically.
Nadia Grady, Administrative Assistant
Teri McCormick, Communications Operator
Here is a partial list of MBA’s costs:
• Ambulance – $108,000 (ambulances travel 70-80,000
miles per year!)
• Portable Ventilator – $25,000 each (2 for Critical Care Transports)
• Lifepak 15 (5 lead EKG/Defibrillator) – $23,000
• Gurney – $19,500
• Ultrasound – $2,000
• Medical Supplies – $6,000 per month
•The average ambulance service fee – $2,800
(MediCal reimburses MBA $327 + mileage. Medicare reimbursement is $527 + mileage for Advanced Life Support services)
On Saturday evening, April 15th the Yucca Valley Sunset Rotary Club will be hosting the 19th Annual Dessert Soiree Charity Benefit Party and Auction to help raise funds for a $25,000 ventilator which will be used by MBA in critical care transports. Tickets are $45 each. If someone is interested in purchasing tickets or donating, please call MBA at (760) 366-8474 during business hours.
Help your community, your loved ones, and even yourself by supporting this vital organization. Join this fun night of fundraising, or make your donations directly to MBA at www.mbambulance.org/donations/ or scan the bar code.