Understanding EMSA

By Guillermo Rojas y William R. Wynn | TULSA, OK

No one wants to be in a situation where he or she has to call an ambulance, but in the event this is necessary it’s good to know help is only minutes away. La Semana spoke recently with Adam Paluka, Public Affairs Director for the Emergency Medical Services Authority (EMSA), which provides ambulance service in the City of Tulsa. Paluka talked about the history of EMSA, how the service works, and what residents can do to make sure they don’t get stuck with a large ambulance bill.

“In the late 1970s the City of Tulsa wasn’t happy with how their ambulance service was performing,” Paluka explained, “so EMSA was created to ensure that the city would be able to have the highest quality ambulance service at the lowest cost for its citizens.”

Initially EMSA only provide service in Tulsa, but in 1990 expanded to cover Oklahoma City as well.

Paluka said EMSA is a not-for-profit organization, and that all money raised through patient billing or service subscription goes back into the organization.

Paluka said a typical ambulance ride and associated service runs between $1300 – $1400, which even for those with health insurance can cost the individual $250 – $300. But through a subscription service where Tulsa residents have the option of paying $5.40 each month added to their water bills there is no out-of-pocket cost if they have insurance, and even if they have no insurance the cost is reduced by 40%.

“If you’re an EMSA Care member, in the event that you’re transported in an emergency situation by EMSA to the hospital, your membership would cover any out-of-pocket costs,” Paluka said.

And for those Tulsans who don’t get a water bill, they can still sign up for the program during the month of August.

“During August there are 30 days when you can join as a direct subscriber,” Paluka said. “You just fill out an application on line and you become a member of the program.”

Paluka said this option is often used by apartment residents or for seniors who live in assisted living facilities. The only caveat is the annual fee of $65 must be paid in advance instead of monthly.

Communication is critical in emergency situations, and Paluka said that while some medics are bilingual, EMSA also participates in a national program that gives them access to real time translators for up to 100 different languages.

Paluka explained that there are three different priority levels for ambulance service that are mandated in their contract.

Priority 1 calls are for life threatening situations, and in those cases EMSA will arrive in less than 11 minutes. These are the times when ambulances use lights and sirens.

Priority 2 calls are for serious situations where an ambulance is needed, but where the person’s life is not at immediate risk, such as for a broken leg. In these sitautions EMSA will arrive in less than 25 minutes.

Priority 3 calls are prescheduled transportation, often between a hospital and another medical facility.

Paluka said Hispanics should have no concern about calling 9-1-1 if they need ambulance service. EMSA never asks about immigration status and only want to help.

“We just want to get you or the person you’re calling about better,” he said. “That’s our only goal.”

For more information on how to change or check your enrollment status of EMSACare through your water bill, please call the City of Tulsa’s Customer Care Center at (918) 596-9511.

To enroll directly during the month of August if you don’t receive a water bill, visit

EMSA is one of the top-ranked ambulance services in the nation. (La Semana)