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BLOOMINGTON - Officials with the private countywide ambulance service, already stopping their paramedic service this fall, now are looking for someone to take over their nonemergency wheelchair transportation service in the Twin Cities.

Lifeline Mobile Medics' medivan provides daytime trips to places such as doctors' offices, nursing homes and hospitals. The company also provides paramedic service through much of McLean County and basic emergency medical technician service to some rural communities when needed.

The latest request for proposals is part of an effort by Lifeline, which is owned by BroMenn Regional Medical Center and OSF St. Joseph Medical Center, to phase out of existence.

"We are not looking to sustain the business if there are alternatives," Lifeline Board Chairman Alex Horvath said.

Lifeline officials announced March 1 the company would stop providing emergency paramedic service Sept. 1.

The agency also has taken two proposals from parties interested in taking over the EMT service Lifeline provides to some communities without their own ambulances. It also would transfer duties of the medivan service if a comparable provider comes forward.

"We may end up staying in the business if there wasn't an alternative, because there is a need," Horvath said.

Horvath said the transportation provided by Lifeline doesn't fit with the hospitals' primary business, and board members hope to find established entities that would fit well to continue such a service.

Lifeline Administrator David Anderson said there previously were no plans to stop nonemergency transportation services. But the hospitals have lost money subsidizing Lifeline, and the organization's board recently authorized publishing public notices to find if anyone is interested in the nonemergency business.

"It's not a lucrative business, and Lifeline, based on the budget that I've put together, shows that the wheelchair business comes close to breaking even but doesn't really make any money," Anderson said. "And a couple of vans have 120,000 miles on them, and they're a $45,000 piece of equipment."

Lifeline is accepting proposals through July 13 on the takeover of the wheelchair service.

Anderson said if an organization proves it can provide the personnel and equipment to continue the wheelchair service, "who knows what the board might approve?"

"They might give you some equipment to do it," he said.

Horvath said Lifeline would try to help current employees move to the company taking over the wheelchair service and liquidate or sell vans to that company. He said Lifeline's building houses the organization's EMS operation and the wheelchair service, and it wouldn't be affected.

Many rely heavily on Lifeline

Susan Holifield, administrator at Heritage Manor of Bloomington, said her residents rely heavily on Lifeline and Liberty Transport Plus. People admitted to the facility frequently come from hospitals and leave the facility for doctors' offices in medivan vehicles, she said.

Holifield said she's not concerned about the possible change, but she said the service would be missed if it is not replaced.

"It's hard for families, a lot of times, to get people in and out of a wheelchair, into the car, out of the car, and it's so much nicer when they can just stay in their wheelchair," Holifield said.

Jodi Wallace, who co-owns Liberty Transport Plus Inc. with her husband, Jim, said she and her husband are considering taking over coverage now provided by Lifeline's wheelchair service. She described Liberty as a transportation service similar to Lifeline.

"It's definitely something we're thinking about, and it's something we'd consider," Wallace said, adding she still is trying to get more details on Lifeline's operation.

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