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City seeks costs of joining county ambulance service

Submitted by on 1, August 17, 2009 – 6:00 amNo Comment

City officials and leaders of the county’s Emergency Medical Services authority are exploring the possibility of adding Alameda to the county’s ambulance service contract.

A just-released addition to the county’s request for proposals for its upcoming ambulance contract includes a clause requiring whatever private transport company is selected to include other cities in “Zone 1” in their coverage area if the need arises. Zone 1 includes Alameda, Albany, Berkeley and Piedmont – the four cities in Alameda County that provide their own ambulance transport service.

In a July 13 letter to the county’s then-assistant EMS director, Dale Fanning, Interim City Manager Ann Marie Gallant thanked Fanning (who is now director of the authority) for allowing Alameda to participate in the bid process.

“While the city is in no way committing to proceed under such a proposal, it would, at a minimum, provide the City with valuable information in determining the relative costs of continuing to provide the ambulance transport service through the Alameda Fire Department as opposed to the cost of providing such a service through the County’s contract,” Gallant wrote.

Gallant said the request is part of a broader effort to work out running contract issues with the county EMS authority and that it’s too soon to say whether the city will even consider jettisoning its own ambulance service to use the county’s private contractor. Alameda’s contract with the authority lapsed four years ago and has been mired in a dispute between the city and county over how much Alameda should pay.

Other cities in the county have special taxes in order to pay for their EMS contracts with the county, but Alameda does not. The city originally paid about $100,000 a year to the county for its EMS services, but when the services expanded, the bill went up to about $839,000 a year.

“The first hurdle is to get an understanding of what’s in the contract, to sit down and start talking. That’s the only decision that’s been made,” Gallant said.

She said she hopes to have an answer to that question sometime this fall, and to analyze the city’s alternatives to present to the City Council in January or February.

City officials have said that ambulance service costs $4 million to implement and that it recovers $2 million of that. But the firefighters union has disputed those figures.

In her letter, Gallant also asked that the county’s RFP request costs and specifications for providing the same level of ambulance service the city currently provides: Three ambulances 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with response times of six minutes or less and arrival at a trauma center within 10 to 12 minutes at least 90 percent of the time.

The bid document asks for response times of eight and a half minutes or less, 90 percent of the time, and only for life-threatening emergencies. That’s apparently faster than the county’s current provider, AMR, is required to respond – something bidders for the contract said would lead to a huge increase in costs, the county’s written responses to questions posed by the bidders show.

The county had threatened to decertify Alameda’s ambulance service if the contract issues aren’t worked out. Alameda is the only city in Alameda County without a signed contract with the authority. (The bid addition also requires the county’s ambulance contractor, at the county’s request, to help out in other cities where the agreement between the city and county has been suspended.)

The authority’s services include licensing and oversight of ambulance service and funding for the county’s trauma centers, in addition to ambulance transport service for the cities that don’t have their own.

The new contract is set to be awarded in May 2010 and to start in November 2011.

A rep for the firefighters’ union did not have any comment when we checked in a few weeks ago.

On a separate fire department note, the International Association of Firefighters – the organization that includes our local – has released a rebuttal to a consultant’s report that recommended major changes to the city’s fire service. The report is here (scroll down); rebuttal, here.

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