/ STAFF WRITER
After years of excluding all but one ambulance company, Riverside appears to be shifting toward welcoming all comers who want to transport non-emergency patients in the city.
There’s still only one company – American Medical Response – allowed to do business in Riverside. But that looks likely to change, with Care Ambulance on its way to getting a permit and a council subcommittee proposing the approval of three other companies.
Emergency, or 911, ambulance calls are handled nearly countywide by AMR under a contract with Riverside County. Non-emergency or scheduled trips – such as to dialysis appointments or between hospitals – are an open market everywhere in the county but Riverside, which requires city approval and a special permit known as a franchise.
For decades, Riverside has rejected all applicants except AMR. That changed in September, when the council voted to give Orange-based Care Ambulance a permit. Another procedural hearing remains, and the council must set a franchise fee.
On Wednesday, the council’s public safety committee recommended permits be granted to Carson-based AmeriCare Ambulance, and Mission Ambulance and Cavalry Ambulance, both headquartered in Corona. Final approval rests with the council.
The shift in the city’s ambulance policy started with revisions to the rules in 2013, including the removal of a provision that said the council should consider the financial impact of competition on the current provider.
Mission Ambulance Chief Operating Officer Rick Hartsock, whose 2011 permit request was rejected by the city, attributes the reversal to changes on the City Council and in fire department administration. The fire department oversees the permitting process.
“I think they’re seeing things differently now and they’re doing their homework,” he said.
Competition typically helps push down prices, though ambulance and city officials have debated how much that may happen in this case, because the county puts a cap on ambulance fees and some charges are determined by Medicare.
Most observers seem to agree that having more than one company handle scheduled trips would help move patients and free up hospital beds more quickly.
Now, any company can drop off patients at a Riverside facility, but only AMR can pick them up. That can lead to patients waiting for rides after their medical care.
With only one provider, “They would get there whenever they could get there,” Cavalry Ambulance General Manager Lane Tucker said, adding that with more options, “They won’t be waiting around so much.”
Many health care companies sign contracts and make arrangements with a network of providers, said AmeriCare Vice President Jim Karras. If they can’t use the ambulance company they have a deal with, that can lead to delays, he said.
Karras said competition can also lead to better service.
Riverside looks poised to give permits to up to four new companies for non-emergency ambulance service, after years of having just one. Here are the applicants. Mission Ambulance Background: Established in 2000, headquarters in Corona Size:16 licensed ambulances, four pending, 120 employees Proposal: Need will determine number of ambulances in Riverside Americare Ambulance Background: Established in 1996, headquarters in Carson Size: 65 licensed ambulances, 300 employees Proposal: Two ambulances would serve Riverside, eventually growing to five Care Ambulance Background: Established in 1969, headquarters in Orange Size: 160 licensed ambulances, nearly 1,000 employees Proposal: Would start with 10 to 12 ambulances in Riverside . Cavalry Ambulance Background: Established in 2004, headquarters in Corona Size: 10 licensed ambulances, about 40 employees Proposal: Need will determine number of ambulances in Riverside .