Remember when Riverside officials said they wanted a public workshop on their ambulance policy, which several council members have said is unfair and should be revised? Then you’ve got a good memory — Mayor Rusty Bailey called for that workshop in December 2011.
Now Bailey says a workshop will be held Sept. 24. He was unable to give details of information or recommendations the city attorney’s office will reveal at the workshop, but he said there will be plenty to consider.
Riverside County oversees an exclusive contract with American Medical Response (AMR), which provides 911 ambulance service nearly county-wide. But non-emergency ambulance transportation, which moves patients between nursing homes, hospitals and long-term care facilities, operates in an open and competitive market — everywhere in the county except the city of Riverside.
That’s a result of Riverside’s franchise policy for non-emergency ambulance service. Similar to how some cities run trash collection or taxi services, companies can apply for a franchise permit and must meet certain criteria.
Theoretically, the process is open to anyone who meets the requirements, but so far Riverside has rejected all applicants except AMR. (State emergency services officials have said the city doesn’t have the authority to stop qualified companies from operating within its boundaries.)
“It was an antiquated policy,” Bailey said on Wednesday, Sept. 4. “I think that the policy will definitely be changed in some way, shape or form.”
One of the criteria when city officials consider companies applying for permits is whether it will financially harm the current permit holder (See section 5.66.060). “That begs the question of, do we want a competitive contract or not,” Bailey said.
Instead of the franchise system that’s open to all applicants, he said, maybe the city should consider using competitive bidding to decide who gets to provide non-emergency ambulance transport.
So why did it take 19 months to bring the issue back to council for discussion? (In September 2012, while campaigning for the mayor’s seat, Bailey said staffers were “looking at best practices.”)
“I think staff has needed the time to truly vet the complex nature of of this business and to make sure the city gets the highest quality, life-saving response,” Bailey said Wednesday.
One challenge ambulance companies and city officials may continue to face is separating the issues of 911 ambulance service, which the county controls, and non-emergency ambulance transport.
Complicating the issue is Riverside’s contract that allows AMR two extra minutes’ emergency response time in exchange for money and training for the fire department’s paramedic services. Expect that to come up at the workshop — though as to the non-emergency policy, what staff will recommend remains a mystery until the agenda comes out around Sept. 20.
Mission Ambulance Chief Operating Officer Rick Hartsock, whose company was turned down for a Riverside permit in October 2011, said Wednesday he’s thrilled to hear the council will be reviewing its policy.
“The one thing I hope doesn’t happen is that they make it even harder to get in,” he said.
Council members rejected the application from Corona-based Mission based on the fire chief’s assessment that AMR was meeting the need for non-emergency service in the city.