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Colorado Springs not renewing ambulance contract with AMR

By Scott Harrison
Published On: Mar 07 2013 02:47:03 AM CST

Fire chief breaks silence on why city is ending 18-year association.

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -

Colorado Springs officials on Wednesday finally broke their silence on a year-long ambulance controversy and explained why they won't renew their contract with AMR.

During a meeting of the El Paso County Emergency Services Agency, city Fire Chief Rich Brown read a prepared statement which stated the city won't renew its contract with AMR and will seek another ambulance provider.  The city has until April 2014 to find a replacement.

After months of declining to explain the situation to board members, the statement revealed the city seeks a new contract that "should be controlled, conducted, negotiated and managed by the fire department."

The city wants such a contract, according to the statement, because it handles 85 percent of all emergency transports and 76 percent of 911 calls within the county.

City officials were unavailable for interviews after the board meeting.  However, board members Carl Tatum and Sallie Clark expressed disappointment about the city's decision.

"Some of the stuff in (Brown's) prepared statement, I think was misleading or untrue," said Tatum.  "(His) argument is that (the city) needs to be compensated for the five or ten minutes they're on-scene.  I believe that they are being compensated through taxes."

Tatum said there is surprise and even anger about the city's decision.

"The city is trying to get $2.4 million from its current contract," said Tatum.  "I don't believe they're going to get the level of service they (have) now, for any less money."

Tatum said he believes city residents could pay up to 40 percent more for ambulance service from a new provider.  He said he bases that on a 19 percent increase in Aurora when that city switched providers last year.

A medical transport by AMR costs between $600 and $2,500, depending on a patient's condition.

What remains unclear is whether the city's apparent departure from the ESA organization will convince the ESA's remaining 25 members to stay together as a group, or seek their own deals with ambulance providers.  Tatum said the members will meet and decide before next April's contract deadline.

The city's decision also could have long-term negative impacts on ambulance availability, response times and patient costs, said Tatum.

Scott McCune, AMR's operations manager in El Paso County, said he's not ruling his company out of the city's picture yet.

"We've been providing (them) service since 1979," said McCune.  "I can't imagine (us) not being here.  I think we're just waiting to see what the city has and what the specifics are going to be, then we can go from there."

The city left open the option of considering a new contract that would also serve the rest of the ESA.  McCune said only one provider, a Denver-based company, is equipped to serve an area the size of El Paso County.

That fact has generated talk that the city might somehow provide its own ambulance service -- using existing fire stations, paramedic vehicles and personnel.  However, the city has not publicly discussed such a plan, and it seems unpopular with board members.

"The city just got out of the health care business," said Tatum, referring to the recent sale of Memorial Hospital.  "Why would they want to get back into it?"

Local residents shared their opinions about the city's decision with KRDO NewsChannel 13.

"I'm happy with (AMR's) service," said city resident Tami Dabbs.  "I've had to use them a few times myself, for my mother.  She's elderly, and they've come very quickly and on time."

"I believe it would be OK if (the city) contracted out and did other things here," said Heather Nanney, a county resident.  "It would get response to more people."

Mike Olmstead, a county resident, said he's a former emergency medical technician and understands the issue.

"I know some of the (medics)," he said.  "I don't understand why you get rid of something that's worked."

The financial aspect of the city's decision worried city resident Jayne Fisher.

"Our taxes keep getting raised, and we aren't getting paid more," she said.  "So why should we have to pay more in order to have that service?"

Here's the statement from the Colorado Springs Fire Department:


Emergency Transport Services

City of Colorado Springs Rationale and Direction

The administration of the City of Colorado Springs recognizes that the dynamics of health care are rapidly changing. As the ESA Board heard directly from its independently-hired professional consultant, quality emergency health care requires closer relationships between first responders, transport services, and local hospital systems. Currently, 85 percent of emergency transports within the jurisdiction of the ESA originate within the city limits of Colorado Springs. In addition, the Colorado Springs Fire Department is the first responder on 76 percent of emergency 911 calls within the jurisdiction of the ESA. For these reasons, the administration of the City of Colorado Springs believes that in order to best serve emergency health care patients and citizens of the city, any RFP relating to emergency transport services within the City should be controlled, conducted, negotiated, and managed by the Colorado Springs Fire Department.

Competitive procurement is the holy grail of government procurement because it results in the best bang for the buck for taxpayers. Many cities, both larger and smaller than Colorado Springs, receive compensation from ambulance providers for the EMT and Paramedic services provided by their fire departments, who frequently arrive first to emergencies. It is really time that Colorado Springs receives such reimbursement and does not remain in the old model where the City is providing hidden subsidies to the provider.

Accordingly, the City will be issuing an RFP for emergency transport services within the city limits. The RFP will be designed to award a contract for emergency transport services beginning April 2014, at the expiration of the current ESA-AMR contract. The RFP could include an alternate option or options that will request proposals not only for the City but for service in the remainder of the ESA area as well. In any event, based on responses to the RFP process, the Colorado Springs Fire Department may recommend to City Council that Council exercise its right to withdraw the city from the ESA by terminating the ESA IGA pursuant to its termination provisions.

The City of Colorado Springs remains dedicated to cooperating with neighboring communities and fire protection districts to ensure that the highest quality emergency transport services and patient care possible is provided throughout El Paso County. As I noted earlier, the City is willing to extend the scope of the City-issued RFP to include provision of emergency transport service to all areas currently served by the ESA. However, City administration does not feel the current structure of the ESA is providing the best level of service to patients and citizens and the City needs the ability to directly manage any contract for emergency transport services to insure better service. Should the neighboring communities and the ESA Board choose not to be included in the City-issued RFP, the City will continue to communicate closely and cooperate with our neighbors to ensure the absolute highest quality of emergency transport services is available to all of El Paso County.

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