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Manteca Ambulance: 60 years & counting
Debt free with rates 15% lower than other ambulances
Manteca District Ambulance, from left, office manager Melissa Anaya, chief operating officer Bill Caldera, and division manager Jon Mendoza are all EMT certified. When needed , they will drop what they are doing and man an ambulance. - photo by HIME ROMERO

The vital signs for Manteca District Ambulance  are still going strong as the non-profit turns 60.

• Rates 15 percent lower than nearby private sector ambulance companies.

• The ambulance district has no debt.

• Average 9-1-1 response times that in 94 percent of the time meet or beat the state benchmark of 90 percent for ambulance services.

• State-of-the-art patient care equipment.

• A financial commitment to youth activities in the communities they serve.

The MDA is celebrating 60 years of service to Manteca, Lathrop and the surrounding countryside on Tuesday with an invitation-only reception at Chez Shari.

And there is more that sets MDA apart from other ambulance operations. It is one of less than a half dozen non-profit ambulance companies still left in California. And thanks to its fiscal management as well as its non-profit status, MDA works with people who can’t afford to pay their full bills instead of turning them over to collection agencies or placing liens against their homes.

Manteca Ambulance Chief Operating Officer Bill Caldera noted that is a point of pride for his bosses on the MDA board that serve without compensation. Caldera said the board feels strongly that they exist to serve and work with residents.

Caldera noted the lower cost service fees also covers non-emergency transfers.

“We want people to know they have a choice when they need an ambulance,” Caldera said. “It is a choice that can save them money and protect local jobs.”

For most emergencies - unless all Manteca units are tied up - MDA is automatically dispatched in Manteca, Lathrop and the nearby countryside.

The MDA has 29 employees in Manteca-Lathrop that staff three stations - headquarters on Center Street a substation on Airport Way, and a station in Lathrop on Fifth Street. Since July 1, 1987 they have contracted with Tuolumne County to run the ambulance services in that county.

A number of MDA employees have been able to buy homes during the economic downturn. Caldera credits that with the steady employment provided by the ambulance district.

And when it comes to working with the two local fire departments, Division Manager Jon Mendoza notes that it is virtually seamless. They train extensively with both agencies and as a result the response at medical emergencies is often more efficient than elsewhere.

“AMR (American Medical response out of Stockton) deals with about 13 different fire agencies in their territory,” Mendoza said. “That makes it challenging.”

In Manteca or Lathrop, the fire engine crew normally arrives first. They will not only start assisting the patient but other firefighters will make access as quick and smooth as possible by moving furniture and such. A firefighter in many instances will ride with the crew to the hospital to provide additional assistance.

And when it is all through, whatever medical supplies a fire department crew had to use on the call, MDA makes the department whole by replacing it on the spot.

The MDA officially started back in 1951.

Community leaders were concerned about the response times of ambulances out of Stockton and the survival rate of those needing emergency medical care in Manteca and Lathrop.

The non-profit was started by a community campaign for annual subscriptions that in exchange for less than $10 upfront annually members could have free use of the ambulance when needed.

One of the original board members was Dale Johnson who will be among the honorees on Tuesday.

Ted Simas is the board president today.  Other board members are Ted Polous, Brenda Franklin, Paul Gutierrez, Hal Corbett, Jennifer Hasselbach, and Caroline Thibodeau.

The fact MDA is not in debt has a lot to do with it being a non-profit as well as the efforts of board members and management through the years.

Initially, the district would incur debt whenever they bought an ambulance. They started establishing set aside money for replacement as the years went by. Then when Dana Solomon was the COO, he convinced the board to start squirreling away money to build a headquarters station with crew quarters, classrooms and offices that would meet all the need s of a growing community.

Originally the district went into debt with a $20,000 loan to buy a building on South Grant Street attached to the old El Rey Theatre. After that was paid off, the district put aside money so that when the current headquarters was built on Center Street the land was purchased and the construction was able to take place without incurring debt.

The same approach is used today in making sure funds are on hand when equipment need to be replaced such as ambulances that require $130,000 on average to purchase and equip.

The commitment to community and fiscal responsibility while eschewing profits has allowed the MDA to handle the impact of doing business in California better than many other ambulance services.

MediCal, for example, won’t pay more than $118 for an ambulance

“It costs us $338 every time we roll on a call,” office manager Melissa Anaya said of the cost breakdown for equipment, personnel, insurance, and vehicle costs.

Caldera noted the MDA “runs “lean and mean” without sacrificing quality care and quick response.