Emergency medical services in the city are conducted under a deal with a private company, Rural/Metro, that was recently extended for one year.
Because of some legal issues, the city of San Diego might not be able to bring ambulance services back in-house by decree, but would have to solicit bids — in which case the SDFRD can be one of the competitors.
At a meeting of the City Council’s Public Safety and Neighborhood Services Committee, Fire Chief Javier Mainar said emergency medical services are an inherent government function like police and fire protection.
“I think we as a collective in the community should be able to fund that for reliability purposes,” Mainar said. “It is not something that should be done for profit, in my view.”
He said bringing ambulance services back in-house could mean the lowering of patient fees.
Frank DeClercq, who heads the firefighters union, said the change would also mean having ambulances at every station. As it stands now, 36 are stationed around the city during peak periods, and 24 are available at non-peak periods, according to Rural/Metro.
That number would rise to 47 ambulances with the SDFRD, DeClercq said.
Despite their comments, Mainar said Rural/Metro is fulfilling the terms of its contract, and DeClercq said the company has been a “good partner.”
Concerns over the city’s contract with Rural/Metro grew recently when the company declared bankruptcy. Mainar and company officials said service to San Diego has continued unabated.
Interim Mayor Todd Gloria is studying the issue and is expected to decide in a month or so whether to take the ambulance services in-house and risk litigation or whether to issue a call for bids.
One problem is that a “request for proposals” has already been prepared, but with the assistance of the fire department — which would preclude it from bidding, Mainar said. For the SDFRD to bid, an entirely new RFP would have to be developed without the department’s input.
The city and Rural/Metro had been in a joint venture for many years when a city audit in 2011 turned up alleged accounting irregularities that might have cost the city as much as $11 million.
Rural/Metro denied wrongdoing, and City Attorney Jan Goldsmith said a later investigation exonerated the company. However, the partnership was dissolved and converted into a typical vendor contract.
Rural/Metro contracts for ambulance services with local governments around the nation, including Del Mar, Encinitas, Rancho Santa Fe, Solana Beach and the county of San Diego.
In a letter to the mayor’s office, the company said it is restructuring in order to reduce its debt. In the meantime, operations are continuing normally and employees are being paid, according to Rural/Metro.