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Wallowa Memorial Hospital is in the final stages of obtaining a 4-x-4 ambulance to add to its fleet, one that will aid emergency responders in their efforts to get into hard-to-reach places that Life Flight cannot get to in the winter.

Wallowa Memorial Hospital, a 25-bed critical access hospital and trauma center located in Enterprise, is eagerly awaiting the arrival of the county’s first four-wheel drive ambulance, and it will be the only ambulance with a neonatal transporter. The hospital serves the residents and visitors of Wallowa County in northeast Oregon, an area encompassing 3,152 square miles known for its wintry climate and rugged terrain, with a population of more than 7,000 people.

The hospital relies on Life Flight helicopters to make transfers for all patients in remote areas, but extreme weather conditions sometimes prevent helicopters from reaching patients or making safe transfers.

“The ambulance will be used specifically for transferring patients out of the area to surrounding medical facilities when Life Flight is unavailable due to inclement weather in the area,” said Brooke Pace, communications and public relations director at Wallowa Memorial Hospital. “Every road out of here is going to take you over a pass and in snowy conditions, conditions too severe for Life Flight, a four-wheel drive ambulance can mean the difference between life and death.”

“The new four-wheel drive ambulance will reduce the risk to patients we are transporting, especially in winter weather,” said Tim Peck, EMS director. In addition to transferring patients, the ambulance will help first responders reach patients in the rugged terrain of the Wallowa Mountains, especially during the winter season, and the neonatal specialized equipment will allow the hospital to transport high-risk and critically ill newborns for the first time.

The new ambulance will also increase the hospital’s fleet of ambulances to a total of four, one of which is stationed in Wallowa, a small town in Wallowa County with a population of just over 800 people. This will also be important for the community as the county has seen an increase in call volume.

“In the past 10 years, the ambulance call volume has gone up by 25%, from 500 per year to about 750 now,” Peck said.

Although COVID-19 has significantly delayed the production of the ambulance, the hospital is expected to receive it this month when the EMS director will fly to Houston, Texas, to pick it up from the factory and then drive it back to the county. It will take approximately two weeks to prepare the ambulance for service. It will have decals put on, equipment installed and all necessary supplies stocked and loaded.

“We anticipate it being ready for service by the first or second week in January,” Pace said.

The new ambulance, which will cost about $400,000, was made possible through grants and community fundraising efforts. Wallowa County Healthcare District received a $152,000 grant from the M. J. Murdock Charitable trust toward its purchase.

“It is critical that we ensure every individual, family and community has access to quality healthcare, regardless of their physical address. We are grateful to organizations like Wallowa County Health Care District that are leveraging modern technology and innovation to help provide top quality care throughout their region,” said Steve Moore, executive director, of the M. J. Murdock Charitable Trust. The District also received a $20,000 grant from the Lewis and Clark Valley Healthcare Fund.

The largest amount raised was at the 24th annual Healthy Futures Dinner Auction fundraiser, held at the Cloverleaf Hall in Enterprise, and sponsored by the Wallowa County Healthcare Foundation since 1996. Proceeds from the dinner auction are targeted to a specific need at the hospital. Last year, that need was determined to be a four-wheel drive ambulance.

“We had a record year and netted $152,000 toward the new 4x4 ambulance. This effort relied on the help of 65 volunteers, 70 people donating for the silent and live auctions, 64 hands up for the Paddle Raise, and more than 225 attending and supporting, or sending in their support if they couldn’t attend,” a representative of the Foundation said, “and we couldn’t do it without you, Wallowa County.”

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