County approves two-year extension; firefighters object, citing substandard service
REDWOODCITY — Supervisors approved a two-year contract extension for the county’s ambulance provider despite concerns that it failed to meet on-time performance standards in three of the last nine months.
The slower response times by American Medical Response occurred earlier in the year and cost the company more than $122,000 in fines, according to emergency medical services administrator Barbara Pletz. Supervisors could have voted to cancel the contract based on the infraction, but instead decided to extend it, citing improved response times since March.
County firefighters, however, who must wait at the scene when AMR is slow to respond, are speaking out against the renewal. Firefighters also ride to the hospital with patients, putting their fire rigs out of service, when dispatchers send an ambulance without a paramedic to an emergency, according to Ed Hawkins, a San Mateo fireman and president of the Local 2400 county firefighter’s union.
“What we see on the frontline is that the bottom line is more important to AMR than quality emergency care,” Hawkins said. Hawkins cited a recent incident in which his rig responded to an emergency on Polhemus Road in San Mateo and it took 14 minutes for an ambulance to arrive, Hawkins said. Under its contract, AMR must arrive within a specified time according to zones — in this case six minutes and 59 seconds — 90 percent of the time or be fined, officials said.
Representatives for AMR did not return calls for comments for this story.
Despite failing to meet its 90 percent on-time arrival standard in December 2005 and February and March 2006 improvements have been made, Pletz said. “If they had not demonstrated improvement, then I don’t think we have would have been extending the contract,” she said.
Since March, AMR has raised its performance to the 90 percent to 91 percent level, records show.
“There have been performance problems andthey have exceeded their times, but that’s why we have increased the fines for performance” in the latest amended contract, said Jerry Hill, president of the Board of Supervisors, who along with the rest of the board voted to extend AMR’s contract until June 2009.
Beginning in January, fines for late ambulance response times will increase from $7.50 per minute and a maximum $350 to $35 a minute with a $750 maximum, according to the contract. Fines for sending an ambulance without a paramedic to an emergency will jump from $350 per occurrence to $2,500, the contract shows.
“We’re looking for a change in the system, we’ll definitely be going out to bid at the end of this contract,” said Adrian Anderson, vice-president of the county firefighters union.