Jan 10, 2013 12:38 AM by Andy Koen

Mayor mulls in-sourcing ambulance service

COLORADO SPRINGS - American Medical Response has a government-endorsed monopoly for the ambulance service in Colorado Springs and El Paso County. Their contract is up for renewal at the end of the year and Mayor Steve Bach wants to see if the city's really getting the best deal.

"More and more people are using 911 as their doctor of choice which is not appropriate but it's what is happening," Bach said.

All 911 calls require both a fire truck and an ambulance to respond, meaning the city and AMR often duplicate services.

"Our firefighters are then spending time analyzing the patient, stabilizing the patient, doing some diagnostics taking the patient ready for transport and in many cases actually wheeling the patient to the ambulance," Bach said.

So, he and Fire Chief Rich Brown are considering having the city simply take over ambulance service. It's an idea could get really expensive.

To purchase a fleet of Type II and Type III ambulances like those currently in use at AMR would cost $4,116,000. That figure doesn't include the $1,056,000 per year for maintenance and fuel, or the salaries and benefits of new paramedics and EMTs.

In fact, the city is struggling just pay new firefighters to staff all of their stations. It took a two year $2 million grant from the Obama administration to fully staff the new Fire Station 21 without pulling crews from other fire houses.

"I think there's a concern that things have kind of been done behind closed doors, the ESA really feels that this needs to be a transparent process," said El Paso County Commissioner Sallie Clark.

She serves on the Emergency Services Agency (ESA) board which was created in 1995 by the city, the county, the hospitals and the rural fire districts to improve ambulance service at a lower cost to the patient.

In exchange for exclusivity, AMR operates without any taxpayers funding and their response times and billing rates are locked-in by the ESA contract. So, if the city opts out of the contract, it could make ambulance service more expensive in communities such as Manitou Springs and Ramah which have individual agreements with AMR through the ESA.

"The cost of doing business is lowered when you do it as a collective group," explained commissioner Clark.

Another option Bach is considering is to open the city's ambulance contract to public bids similar to the private snow operation. He says any bidder would be required to cover the county in addition to the city.

The ESA board voted Wednesday to hire a consultant to review the current contract and consider the impact of the city leaving the agency. Councilman Merv Bennett, who represents the city on the ESA board, said Chief Brown is expected to have the city's plan put together in 6 to 8 weeks.


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