OPINION: Reject ploy to preserve ambulance monopoly
“Competition is a sin.”
— J.D. Rockefeller, probably uttered just before the Teddy Roosevelt administration and the U.S. Supreme Court busted the baron’s monopolistic hold on America’s petroleum industry, circa 1901.
Rockefeller’s phrasing belongs in a past America, yet exists in modern-day Riverside.
According to The Press-Enterprise (“End the ambulance monopoly in Riverside,” Our Views, Sept. 17), City Hall has long “perpetuated a de facto monopoly” where franchise applications for nonemergency services are concerned, rejecting any application for competitive services in favor of maintaining a sole provider, American Medical Response (AMR). This, despite pleas from scores of Riverside rehab/convalesce facilities, and even medical-care-provider giants such as Kaiser hospital.
A Tuesday, Sept. 24 workshop on the matter is set before the City Council. The council has already received a memorandum of recommended alterations, authored by Riverside Fire Chief Steve Early and City Attorney Greg Priamos. The proposed changes include eliminating the most egregious language that stifles competition: a requirement that the city consider whether allowing an additional ambulance firm to operate would “threaten the economic viability of the existing franchisee,” AMR.
Yet give the aforementioned authors credit, because with considerable literary effort they propose to reconstitute that out-of-place edict with new “amendments.” These amendments would require consideration for the existing franchisee’s business model, as well as for “the potential to negatively impact the overall system” — a system that is AMR itself. This is a monopolistic anti-market arrangement that is unique among California’s 25 largest municipalities. It survives to the detriment of our citizens.
The memorandum is a classic “straw-man proposal,” chock full of needless missives in hopes of appearing as authoritative and authentic. It proposes the “Establishment of two types of franchises” when the authors know, or they should know given their high administrative levels, that current California law holds that the county alone selects the area’s 911 ambulance services.
It also proposes “Establishment of an ambulance inspection certification process with regard for roadworthiness.” This program, if enacted, would — what? — do a more thorough inspection than that which is already required and managed under state law by the California Highway Patrol?
In case this doesn’t do enough to preserve the monopoly, the proposed amendments also would allow the fire chief, in considering a new application, to ponder “any other factor deemed relevant by the administrator (fire chief) or council.” This ambiguous authority is unacceptably broad, subjective and despotically mannered.
Most outlandishly arrogant is another requirement proposed by Chief Early. He suggests that despite the state- and county-mandated regulatory standards, Riverside franchise applicants should hold accreditation with a private industry association called the Commission on Accreditation of Ambulance Services (CAAS). Coincidently, CAAS, based in Glenview, Ill., is AMR-dominated. Of the thousand ambulance companies eligible for CAAS “membership” in California, only 15 have elected to participate, and eight of these are AMR or AMR-owned companies.
The executive director of CAAS, Sarah McEntee, is married to AMR executive Tom McEntee, who until 2013 oversaw AMR’s Riverside County operations and has since been promoted to CEO of the giant firm’s eastern USA operation. “Cozy” is one thing, but come on!
When the literary cover is peeled back on the proposed amendments, we sadly find that city officials are steadfast about maintaining the status quo of AMR’s monopoly. Old J.D. Rockefeller would be impressed; the City Council and the Riverside populace ought not to be.
Tom Hunt is the owner of a government relations firm in Riverside. His clients include Mission Ambulance.