July 1, 2014 by
In a probably little-noticed comment at the end of the Riverside City Council’s June 10 meeting, Councilman Paul Davis attempted to get the lid off an interesting can of worms: he asked city staff to “explore the options” for bidding out emergency ambulance service in the city.
Those who have watched the saga of Riverside’s permit system for non-emergency ambulance service (also known as inter-facility transport) may recall that Riverside County oversees 911 ambulance service, and its authority to do so has rarely been questioned.
Earlier this year, Riverside County supervisors decided to extend their longstanding contract with American Medical Response for 911 transport instead of seeking new bids.
To ensure public safety – and prevent the scenario of ambulances fighting over patients in an emergency situation – around 1980 the state created a system that, in most cases, lets counties control 911 service and sign exclusive contracts with ambulance companies.
But the regulations that created that system allowed some cities and fire districts to keep control of ambulance services, at least until they could reach an agreement with their county’s emergency medical service authority. (An explanation from the state’s perspective is in this 2010 report, starting around page 9.)
Davis and some others have said they think Riverside still has a right to govern 911 ambulance service in the city, and that’s the assumption on which his June 10 request appears to be based. But there’s no consensus on the issue, even within the city.
A few examples:
City Manager Scott Barber, in response to Davis’ request: “We draw our authority for the 911 response from the county. … I don’t believe we have the authority to independently contract that.”
Riverside Interim Fire Chief Mike Esparza, in a June 20 interview: “We like the system the way it is and have the right to franchise that service ,” and when pressed about 911 service, he added, “We do have those rights to manage the 911 system.”
(Esparza’s predecessor, retired chief Steve Earley, oversaw the rewriting of the franchise permit rules for inter-facility transport in 2013. The new rules created a separate permit for 911 service, which was never spelled out before. City officials have said there are no plans to change the current system, but why create a rule you never intend to use?)
Riverside City Firefighters Association President Tim Strack, also on June 20: Although it is “far from settled” whether the city retains the right to control 911 ambulance service, Strack thinks there’s no point in wasting money exploring it, because “The second we did we would probably get sued by the county and the state and AMR.”
So, clear as mud, right? And it’s uncertain what (if anything) will happen next, since Davis proposed referring the issue to the public safety committee, which he sits on but doesn’t chair. The committee usually meets the third Wednesday of the month, which would be July 16, but a meeting agenda has not yet has been made public.
And stay tuned for more ambulance talk, since three companies are still waiting for their permit applications for inter-facility transport to be considered.