Co-op News

Small Change Big Impact

By Miguel Rios May 2022

A co-op grant helps Tillman County EMS provide services to Oklahomans

Tillman EMS patch
Photos by Ryan West, Going West Productions

Southwest Rural Electric Association (SWRE) members are helping maintain and improve emergency services for their fellow Oklahomans.

Through SWRE’s Operation Round Up (ORU) program, co-op members have given more than $10,000 to Tillman County EMS over the past three years from rounding up their electric bill to the next dollar. 

Eddie Johnson, Tillman County EMS director, says their service survives off of grant funding.  

“We’re a 522 district ambulance, which means that we get a tax levy via mill from the county,” he says. “Our population has dropped off, which of course means our tax revenue has dropped some.”

Another source of funding comes from billing and collecting health insurance, which has become more difficult lately. Johnson says they collect about 40 percent of what they bill. 

“We’re not getting everything we bill, and some of that we end up having to write off. It affects our bottom line, but those grants allow us to purchase materials that we need to keep us going. So it takes some of the burden off of us financially,” he says. “These grants allow us to spend money we don’t have basically, and to be able to buy things that we need.”

Tillman County EMS, which services about eight towns across the county, has received ORU grants three years in a row. Most recently in 2021, they received $3,000.

“Because of Operation Round Up, we were able to buy eight hand-held radios,” Johnson says. We had some that had failed, and we were getting to a point where it was going to be an issue”

In 2020, they received $5,000 to purchase equipment for their advanced EMT training course, and in 2019, they received $2,700 to purchase a new automated external defibrillator. 

“We hadn’t been able to buy training equipment before that, and I was able to get some lifelike mannequins, which are probably the best mode of training. That alone was a great, big deal,” Johnson says. “The bottom line is, your patient care improved. These grants are a big deal for us. We appreciate them having it because it helps us stabilize our service.”

Through ORU, SWRE members have their electric bills rounded up to the next whole dollar unless they decide to opt out. At the end of the year, accumulated funds are distributed to grant applicants within SWRE’s service area. Rebecca Chambless, SWRE communications specialist, says ORU is an easy way for co-op members to give back to their community.

“The bottom line is, your patient care improved. These grants are a big deal for us.” —Eddie Johnson, Tillman County EMS Director

“On average, they’re giving about 50 cents a month. That’s like $6 a year, and $6 to one person doesn’t seem like a lot,” she says. “But when you multiply that by thousands of members, it really starts to snowball, and the Operation Round Up Board of Directors can make large donations with that money.”

On average, ORU gives about $50,000 per year in grants back to SWRE communities. Chambless says ORU board members select grant recipients based on five areas of assistance: communities, education/youth, senior citizens, emergency assistance and individuals in need.

“Tillman County EMS fits perfectly with ‘emergency assistance,’’ she says. “Our co-op, along with our Operation Round Up board members, are really, really passionate about our local first responders. Tillman County EMS also serves a pretty big chunk of our service territory, and one thing the board takes into consideration is how many SWRE members will be impacted by the grant.”

The funds collected never leave SWRE’s service area and the ORU volunteer board members are also members of the co-op. In addition to the annual grant program, the “rounded up” change is also donated to SWRE members affected by natural disasters like house fires. These emergency donations are made when funds are available. Since 2018, ORU has given $15,000 in emergency donations to SWRE members in need.

“It’s wonderful because it all ends up going back to the community,” Johnson says. “We can’t say enough how much we appreciate and are honored to receive the grants.”

ORU’s motto, “small change that changes lives,” rings true for SWRE members as more than $165,000 in grants have been distributed to organizations since the program launched in 2018.

  • Through SWRE’s Operation Round Up, co-op members have given more than $10,000 to Tillman County EMS over the past three years.  
  • Participating co-op members give about 50 cents a month

  • The co-op’s ORU board gives about $50,000 annually in grants back to SWRE communities 

Category: Co-op News

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