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Ambulance dispute continues in El Paso County

By Scott Harrison
Published On: Dec 04 2012 01:57:05 AM CST

Colorado Springs seeking ambulance license from El Paso County.

EL PASO COUNTY, Colo. -

While El Paso County leaders wait for Colorado Springs to agree on a new contract for ambulance service, the city plans to ask the county for an ambulance license.

At Tuesday's county commissioners' meeting, the city's fire department expects to request a license to operate two squad vehicles as medical transports.  The fire department plans such a use only when American Medical Response, the major local ambulance provider, has no ambulances available -- which has happened around a dozen times this year.

Commissioner Sallie Clark said she doesn't oppose the license for that purpose, because she wants the squad vehicles to meet safety requirements as required by state law.  But she said granting the license while the city continues to negotiate a new contract with AMR could set a dangerous precedent.

"If the city goes on its own, then how does that erode the system in the entire county?" said Clark.  "And what does that mean for the smaller fire districts that really depend on that cohesive system, in addition to will that raise rates in the city limits?"

Clark said she has heard from several sources that the city is trying to get an additional $1 million in the new AMR contract, and use the money to set up medical clinics at some fire stations.  She's concerned that higher rates will help pay for the clinics. 

"The city just got out of the hospital business, and now they're getting back in?" she said, referring to the recent sale of Memorial Hospital.  "And they want to get into the ambulance business, too?  Essentially, it puts our citizens at risk because we don't know what's going to happen.  We need to have these discussions out in the open."

Clark said the issue has been unresolved for about three months, and she has yet to hear from city officials about what they plan to do.  She says the longer the delay, the harder it will be for the county and its partners to renegotiate their AMR contract if the city chooses not to resign.

City officials were unavailable for comment Monday, as was AMR general manager Ted Sayer.

The city risks breaking established mutual aid and intergovernmental agreements with several communities, Clark said, by failing to agree on the new AMR contract.

Clark also is on the board of the Emergency Service Agency.  The 12-member board oversees ambulance service in the county.  Clark said the county and the ESA approved the city's AMR contract but were surprised to learn the city continued to negotiate with AMR.

At the ESA's previous meeting, Clark said the city was supposed to have a representative present to provide an update on the contract, but no representative was present.  She said she hopes the city will send one at the next scheduled meeting on Wednesday.

Tuesday's commissioners' meeting begins at 9 a.m. at Centennial Hall, 200 South Cascade Avenue in downtown Colorado Springs.

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