Fire chief argues against contracted ambulance services

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SAN DIEGO — Top officials with the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department asked Wednesday for a chance to make a bid to bring the city’s ambulance services back in-house, instead of being handled by an outside contractor.

Emergency medical services in the city are conducted under a deal with a private company, Rural/Metro, that was recently extended for one year.

ambulanceBecause 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.


  • Fred

    A 3 mile ambulance ride for $1,500 ??? That is correct!

    If that's not gauging I don't know what is.

    The city will charge more if they get their paws on this service.

    • Chris

      What's "gauging?" If you think that a for-profit ambulance company will do transports cheaper, you're not only illiterate, you're ignorant as well

  • Mark

    Only in an alternative universe would handing EMS services to a union firefighting government agency cause costs to FALL. Notice that the firefighters' union rep failed to mention what the cost would be to the taxpayers – he only referenced "patient fees." How do you increase the number of deployed ambulances by almost 30% (36 to 47) and reduce costs? The answer is, you don't.

    Oh, and "Fred," that "ambulance ride" is in a very expensive mobile emergency room staffed by two highly-trained medical professionals which is equipped and ready 24/7 to get to you in moments and save your ignorant life. And once they've spotted your MI or your stroke / stabilized you / stopped the bleeding / immobilized the fracture / stopped your pain / restarted your heart or breathing and gotten you ready to stay alive during your "ambulance ride," you jolly well might get a bill for $1500. How much is YOUR life worth, Fred?

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