RANTOUL — In 1987, the women’s auxiliary of Burnham City Hospital in Champaign formed an ambulance service.
The group opted for the name “Professional Ambulance Company” for a tactical reason, according to Director Bob Holloway.
“At that time 911 wasn’t super common in Champaign County, so when you called — and especially with our rotation with our competitive environment — it wasn’t necessarily guaranteed which ambulance service you would get,” Holloway said.
They picked that name so that when a person called and was asked which ambulance service he or she wanted and they responded, “I want professionals,” their service would more likely be dispatched.
Thirty-two years later, PRO serves Champaign-Urbana, the northern portion of Champaign County and parts of Vermilion County, including Danville.
When you hear an ambulance siren in Rantoul, there’s a good chance it’s a PRO ambulance.
“Our primary role is to provide 911 emergency service for medical transport,” Holloway said. “We consider this an essential public safety service.”
PRO, which is affiliated with OSF Heart of Mary Medical Center in Urbana, provides service regardless of an individual’s ability to pay.
“We are a true universal healthcare provider,” Holloway said. “Anyone can access us. All you have to do is call 911, and we’ll be on your doorstep.
“We’re very proud of being able to provide care to people who are marginalized in our society, who might not have the money or the means to seek healthcare.”
Not everyone who calls PRO goes to the hospital — and if they do, it doesn’t have to be OSF. PRO will take the patient to whatever hospital the patient desires.
Holloway said sometimes people call because they don’t know what to do.
Perhaps the caller just needs reassurance. Sometimes it’s a new mother who thinks her baby might be choking, or maybe someone fell and needs help getting up, or it could be a diabetic issue and they need help getting their blood sugar raised.
Holloway said such calls are fine.
“That’s what we want them to do,” he said.
Anyone who calls and gets assistance but doesn’t require hospital transport is not charged.
PRO has grown from four wheeled-coach ambulances to 13 paramedic-level ambulances today. It is also equipped with three paramedic-level non-transport vehicles, one all-terrain vehicle for special events and the first downstate physician response vehicle in which a doctor, with specialized equipment, essentially makes house calls in significant emergency situations.
Holloway said the physician responds to calls that are above the level of scope that a paramedic can handle. Recently, the physician responded to an industrial accident in which a man’s legs were pinned. The physician was able to save the victim’s life.
A PRO ambulance is stationed in Rantoul in a building it has shared with the police department for 25 years.
“It’s been working really, really well for us,” Holloway said. “We’re growing so much that we’re looking for additional space in town.”
PRO ambulances are staffed with paramedics and emergency medical technicians who work 24-hour shifts.
An EMT is certified in basic life-support skills and has one semester of college. A paramedic goes through two years of college training and learns such skills as medical assessments, starting intravenous lines, giving emergency medicines intravenously, cardio monitoring advanced airway work and some trauma stabilization.
One area that has made a major impact in patient survival is advances in cardiac systems treatment. A paramedic can do a 12-lead EKG on a heart patient in his or her home and transmit the information to the hospital. The emergency room can be bypassed, and the patient can be taken straight to the cath lab and handed off to the cardiologist.
“Recently we had two of those events,” Holloway said. “From the time of the call to the time that person’s blood vessels had been opened back up was under an hour. Every single minute, hundreds of thousands of cardiac cells die (during a heart attack). The fact we can get this done very quickly” can save lives and minimize damage.
PRO shares Champaign-Urbana ambulance service duties with Arrow Ambulance.
Holloway said PRO averages 200 calls a month in Rantoul. Average response time is between seven and eight minutes.
If an ambulance goes on a hospital run from Rantoul, PRO “backfills” another ambulance to be stationed in town from Champaign until the other ambulance returns. It takes about 90 minutes for an ambulance trip from Rantoul to Champaign and back.
The village has been known to have five or six calls in a 10-minute span, “so we might have every ambulance in the county heading up to Rantoul,” Holloway said.
The community has a high call rate for a couple of reasons, in Holloway’s estimation.
For one, there are two retirement communities in town. And, for another, there are a number of uninsured people or people who don’t have a lot of primary care insurance or are not compliant on medications, either because they can’t afford them or they don’t have access to them.
Seventy-nine percent of PRO’s patients are on Medicare or Medicaid, both of which are known for not paying the true reimbursement costs to ambulance services and healthcare providers. Ten percent of patients are uninsured, and about 11 percent have third-party insurance such as Blue Cross Blue Shield or Health Alliance.
Third-party insurance pays about 30 percent of revenue that PRO collects, whereas Medicaid pays about 18 percent.
Overall, PRO operates at a loss in Rantoul.
But Holloway said PRO isn’t in the business to make a profit.
“Providing the service is more important than making a buck,” he said. “One thing that sets us apart is being a Catholic organization. We are here to serve as an example in the spirit of Christ, to serve in the greatest care and love in a community.”
Part of the loss is made up by serving other towns in the county that have a higher rate of third-party insurance customers.
PRO also provides medical direction to fire departments and first-responders.
OSF is also equipped with its own aviation division. It owns six helicopters and runs an emergency medicine residence program out of St. Francis Medical Center in Peoria with the University of Illinois School of Medicine. On some flights, physicians will be on board.
Holloway said because OSF owns its own helicopters, its rates are about half the cost of other services.
A breakdown on causes prompting ambulance calls in Rantoul:
— Abdominal pain or sickness, 15 percent.
— Breathing problems, 12 percent.
— Chest pains, 11 percent.
— Falls, 10 percent.
— Traffic accidents, 7 percent.
— Unconscious or cardiac arrest, 6 percent.
— Psychiatric-behavioral emergencies, 4 percent.
— Lift assist, 4 percent.
— Convulsions or seizures, 3 percent.