UPDATE: Colorado Springs will pull out of regional ambulance program

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UPDATE: We've heard from a couple of people we asked to comment on the city's decision. The first is AMR manager Ted Sayer, who says via e-mail:

AMR and its predecessor company have had the privilege of serving our community since 1979 when we brought the first certified paramedic level ambulance care to the community. We are very proud of our nationally recognized local ambulance service. We are excited at the prospect of bringing our strong local knowledge coupled with our unmatched national experience and innovation to compete and respond to our customer's needs.

El Paso County Commissioner Sallie Clark, who helped reshape the ESA several years ago and has been active in overseeing the agency, contacted us by e-mail from Washington, D.C., where she's working on watershed issues. She says:

I believe that the City's proposal is a step backward in the cohesive system we've established over the years to offer the best ambulance service contract at no cost to taxpayers. I'm concerned that this patchwork approach will erode the partnership and regional oversight that's been established to ensure accountability. With the City of Colorado Springs pulling out of the ESA, it is likely that costs for emergency transport will rise and seems contrary to past regional efforts which include looking out for all area residents. When you're in a vulnerable emergency situation, and no matter where you are when you need help, it's important that our citizens have the best service coverage our community can provide. While I'm disappointed in the City's decision, El Paso County's intent is to continue with a commitment to regional cooperation.

————————-ORIGINAL POST WEDNESDAY, MARCH 6, 2:10 P.M.——————————————-

Springs Fire Department ambulance
  • Kirsten Akens
  • Colorado Springs is pulling out of the regional Emergency Services Agency. Why? It wants money from the ambulance contractor.

The long-standing Emergency Services Agency faces possible extinction after Colorado Springs Fire Chief Rich Brown said today the city will pull out of the agency and bid its own contract for ambulance service to become effective April 1, 2014.

That's the expiration date of the current contract between American Medical Response and the ESA, which represents 26 regional agencies, including El Paso County.

Brown presented a prepared statement to the ESA board this afternoon, and refused to entertain any questions.

In the statement, Brown said the majority of 911 calls within the ESA service area, which covers most of El Paso County, involve a first response from Springs firefighters.

Because of that, city administration thinks it's in the best interest of the city to be in control of the contract, he said. The city will competitively bid the contract and seek to have the contractor reimburse the city for firefighter time in responding to incidents, Brown said, but he did not say how much the city wants to extract from the contractor.

At present, AMR pays the ESA $200,000 annually for contract administration, and also pays thousands of dollars in fines for violations of the contract, such as exceeding required response times.

In some cities, the reimbursement the city will seek, often called a franchise fee, runs into the millions, driving the cost of ambulance rides upward. Mayor Steve Bach reportedly wants $2.4 million a year from the ambulance contractor, which we most recently wrote about here.

Brown told ESA board members the city would be willing to add the rest of the service area to its request for proposals, if the ESA so desires. In other words, if the ESA chooses to join in the city's RFP, it would seem the city would wind up controling of ambulance service throughout the ESA service area.

The board voted to hire Jon Altman, a consultant from Phoenix, to begin researching a separate RFP for the remaining members of the ESA and authorize spending up to $50,000 for that work.

Ironically, that expenditure requires Springs City Council approval, and ESA board member, Springs Councilor Merv Bennett, said he believes the Council will approve it.

ESA board member John Scorsine wondered what role, if any, city representatives on the ESA should play going forward in light of the city's abandoning the regional approach. It was a question that wasn't answered today, but Bennett offered to recuse himself from all future votes if the board wishes.

Board member Jeff Force said that while he respects the city's decision, he thinks it's necessary to have all players at the table to create the best emergency system.

County Commissioner Peggy Littleton who serves on the ESA board said there are savings to be found in a regional collaboration, a topic often discussed by a state panel on which she serves that is compiling a homeland security strategic plan for emergency response statewide.

"Why can't we have that discussion about reimbursements here, instead of trying to divide and conquer?" she said.

ESA board member Bill Normile said he wanted to note his disagreement with one statement Brown made, that being, the current structure doesn't provide the best level of care to patients.

"This has been going on for 18 years," Normile said. "I disagree with that statement for the record. This board has done their level best for the citizens of the county and the city."

The meeting closed with Sheriff's Commander Jim Reid, ESA board chair, and board member Jeri Howells, mayor of Fountain, commending AMR for a job well done.

"You have been wonderful to work with," Reid told AMR manager Ted Sayer. "Let your folks know it has nothing to do with your performance, and we certainly have the stats to back that up."

Read Chief Brown's complete statement here:
Chief_Brown_ESA_statement.pdf

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