Carson Bates, an EMT for Corona-based Mission Ambulance, drops off a patient at Riverside Community Hospital in 2011. Riverside now allows only one company — American Medical Response — to transport non-emergency patients, but four others, incuding Mission, have applied for permits.
The Press Enterprise

Published: April 28, 2014; 03:41 PM

Riverside has had just one provider of non-emergency medical transportation for decades, but that could change if city leaders follow a recommendation to give a second company a permit.

Interim Fire Chief Mike Esparza is proposing that the city grant Orange-based Care Ambulance permission to transport patients between hospitals and on other non-911 calls in the city. A council committee will discuss the recommendation Thursday, May 1.

Having a second option for medical transportation would be a big change for Riverside.

Currently, 911 ambulance service throughout most of Riverside County is provided by American Medical Response, which has a near-exclusive contract with the county. Non-emergency service, such as when a patient must be moved between hospitals, is a competitive market with multiple providers all over the county except within the city of Riverside.

For years, Riverside has had rules that require medical transportation companies to meet certain standards and get a city permit to operate, but in practice officials have rejected all applicants other than AMR. After complaints about what some call a de facto monopoly, the city in 2013 overhauled its permit system.

Care’s application is the first to be considered under the updated rules. In a report, Esparza notes that although AMR has been able to meet existing needs for non-emergency ambulance service, local hospital officials said they want another option for when AMR is busy and could be delayed picking up patients, and to make prices more competitive.

Any recommendation the council’s public safety committee makes this week would go to the full council for a vote. In the past, the council has followed the fire chief’s recommendation.

Regardless of whether Care’s application is approved, three other companies — Mission Ambulance, Cavalry Ambulance and Americare Ambulance — have submitted applications that would be considered in the future.

Whether the council approves any or all of them may hinge on what council members think is the purpose of the city permit process — simply to ensure all ambulance providers meet the city’s high safety and performance standards, or to decide how much competition the market can bear and stop granting permits when they think there’s enough.

Councilman Mike Soubirous, who chairs the public safety committee, said the city should ensure companies have the proper qualifications, but beyond that the market can regulate itself.

He said he wants to give every applicant a fair chance, but the city’s policy doesn’t clearly explain how applicants can prove there’s a need for their services.

“I think you can read into it what you want, sadly,” Soubirous said.

Councilman Jim Perry agreed that every company that applies deserves to be considered impartially. He hasn’t made up his mind on how many providers the city needs, he said, but “I don’t see us getting into having five ambulance companies, from my personal standpoint.”

Reach Alicia Robinson at 951-368-9461 or arobinson@pe.com

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