San Diego’s Unending Ambulance Saga Continues to Unend - Voice of San Diego

City Council

San Diego’s Unending Ambulance Saga Continues to Unend

A new contract was supposed to go out to bid three years ago. But now it might take until the middle of 2017.

It was three mayors ago when the city of San Diego decided to see whether it could get a better deal on its ambulance services. Now it looks like the decision is going to outlast another mayoral term.

Yet another hiccup is leading city officials to consider putting off a new contract until the middle of 2017, Chief Operating Officer Scott Chadwick told City Council members in a recent memo.

City officials have been hoping that a new contract would allow them to better monitor ambulance response times across the city. Right now, ambulance provider Rural/Metro is responsible for getting to high-priority emergencies like heart attacks with 12 minutes, 90 percent of the time. Fire-Rescue officials examine Rural/Metro’s responses citywide as well as in north, south, east and west zones of the city. But they’d like to hold an ambulance company responsible for response times in neighborhoods.

“We want to make the ambulance provider accountable to smaller areas of the city,” Fire-Rescue Chief Javier Mainar said.

That can’t happen without a new contract.

The reason for the most recent delay is complicated. State regulators have turned down the city’s request to ask private companies to submit bids to run the ambulance system, saying that a recent court ruling dictates that only counties can deal with all aspects of emergency medical services. The city plans to appeal the decision, noting that it has handled its own ambulance contract for more than a decade.

Because it can’t solicit bids, the city will once again have to extend its current deal by as long as two years with Rural/Metro. The existing contract, which we’ve estimated is worth roughly $55 million a year, runs through June.

Rural/Metro has come under fire in recent years for response times. Rural/Metro has always met the terms of the contract. But since the ambulance contract was signed in 1997, especially busy periods had been excluded from the response time standards, meaning that times when ambulances were needed the most, the company was off the hook for arriving within 12 minutes.

In April, the company and the city did away that exemption and the two shared the cost of adding an ambulance to the U.S.-Mexico border to handle lengthy response times there. Early data, which will be presented to a Council committee Wednesday, show that Rural/Metro is meeting its new response time goals.

The city was supposed to solicit bids for a new ambulance contract under Mayor Jerry Sanders, but he didn’t do it before leaving office in late 2012. Sanders’ successor, Bob Filner, considered letting city firefighters run the ambulance system, but he resigned before making a decision. Last October, interim Mayor Todd Gloria tried to put the contract out to bid – a move supported by current Mayor Kevin Faulconer – but now the state has stymied that decision.

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