BENTON COUNTY, Ark. (KNWA/FOX24) — Leaders in Benton County are working to make sure rural communities have continued access to quality emergency services, especially as the county continues to grow westward.

The previous provider of emergency medical services, Northwest Health, decided to end its contract with the county early, according to Benton County spokesperson Melody Kwok. A press release said this decision was made for financial reasons.

So the county had to find someone new to fulfill this need, and so turned to Pafford Medical Services.

“We are poised and ready,” said Clay Hobbs, COO of Pafford Medical Services COO.

Hobbs said Pafford was founded in Arkansas in 1967 and is currently based in Hope. Now it provides ambulance services to 25% of Arkansas, as well as parts of Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

He said Pafford is very familiar with Northwest Arkansas already. It currently provides ambulance services to the city of Rogers and all hospitals and healthcare within Benton County, as well as air ambulance services in Fort Smith.

And starting in January, Pafford Medical Services will begin providing services to four rural cities in western Benton County. 

“Cave Springs, Highfill, Gentry, and Decatur,” said Benton County Judge Barry Moehring. “We’re really excited about Pafford coming on board.”

According to the National Rural Health Care Association, more than 50% of vehicle-related fatalities happen in rural areas. It also says rural areas have an additional 22% risk of injury-related death.

In terms of physical health, the NRHA says rural areas have more frequent occurrences of diabetes and coronary heart disease than non-rural areas. It says there are also more mental health challenges due to having to drive further to get help, and there is a shortage of mental health providers in these communities.

Using data from the National Emergency of Medical Sciences Information System, the NRHA says it found on average, EMS total call time in rural areas is nearly 20% or 30% higher than suburban and urban areas.

Because every minute matters in an emergency in rural areas, Hobbs said they will be embedded in each of these four communities.

“We’ve purchased four brand new ambulances, all new equipment, defibrillators, CPR machines, ventilators for these ambulances,” he said. “The ambulances that will be located in these communities are state-of-the-art.”

He said they also want to create more local job opportunities.

“All EMS is local and we really believe in having local EMTs and paramedics provide service in the communities that they live in and that they work in,” he said.

Judge Moehring said this partnership will also grow along with the county’s population. The contract allows them to add more ambulances into service if they are needed.

The annual amount for the subsidy to Pafford Medical Services will total $1,512,000 per year for four years with the amount being split proportionally between the county and the cities.

“We’ll expand as the population expands,” he said. “We have very strict goals for runtimes and we’ve been very good with our contractors at meeting those.”

All four cities had to individually approve this partnership with Pafford. Decatur became the final city to give it the green light Monday night.

Decatur Mayor Bob Tharp told KNWA/FOX24 over the phone that he is very excited about how this partnership will help his city.

“We frankly are experts in operating ambulance services, but the fire chiefs and the mayors and the emergency management officials are the experts within their communities and their geography,” said Hobbs. “So we have to listen and make sure that we’re providing the very best care.”

Hobbs said the current labor shortage isn’t impacting their applicant pool with about 30 people who have already applied with interest in working in Benton County. Click here if you want to learn more about these job opportunities.