FOX 5 San Diego

City of San Diego opening dialogue to amend contract with emergency services company Falck

SAN DIEGO – After failing to meet obligations on a deal inked with the City of San Diego, San Diego’s emergency ambulance is once again at the forefront.

The city council’s Public Safety and Livable Neighborhoods Committee met Monday for an informational update on its current contract with Falck Mobile Health Corp. City leaders discussed potential changes to its contract to improve upon response time, retaining staff and improving upon recruitment.

Falck took over private ambulance services over a year ago, promising faster service and more coverage. The contract calls for a minimum of 900 daily hours of ambulance services, but city officials say they have yet to meet the minimum standard.

“Falck has consistently failed to live up to its contract, it’s been over a year, and not once has it met the unit hours, the ambulance coverage hours it’s promised,” said Councilmember Marni Von Wilpert, chair member of the Public Safety Committee.

It’s a stern message from councilmembers for falling short of its exclusive ties to the city.

“Nobody should have to wait on hold when they call 911 and when we bid out a major contract with an emergency response company, they need to meet their contract obligations,” Von Wilpert said.

City officials are continuing their search for solution, looking to amend its current contract with the goal of mending Falck’s failure to meet the city’s demands.

“If they’re not able to have the emergency personnel, the EMTs, or the paramedics, I do believe it’s time to subcontract with another company to fill that gap to make sure that we have coverage throughout our city,” Von Wilpert said.  

During the months of October, November and December, San Diego’s 911 system showed a total loss of 10,000 paramedic unit hours, meaning people in need of emergency help, are waiting longer.

“Not only does this put a burden on our personnel off the fire engines, but it puts a burden on the mutual aid system in San Diego County, and if there’s not an ambulance in that area, it might draw one from Poway, it might draw one from Chula Vista,” explained Chief Colin Stowell, with San Diego Fire Rescue.

In December of last year, Falck announced a $50,000 signing bonus to combat the shortage of paramedics, which led to 31 hires. However, following the bonus, the company has since lost seven employees.

“I think it’s important for the public to know this is not a time to panic, because of the collaborative effort with Falck and the San Diego Fire Rescue, you’re always going to get a unit, you’re always going to get a first responder, because of this two-tiered response,” Jeff Behm the Managing Director with Falck shared with FOX 5.

San Diego Fire Rescue is also looking to regain more control over the EMS system as a whole, in hopes for long term change.

“I am hopeful that we’re going to reach a new agreement and I do have hope for a solution that works for everybody,” Von Wilpert said.

The city is demanding Falck raise its incentives to hire more paramedics or potentially lose Falck’s exclusive rights to ambulance services in San Diego. The council has given the company until February to turn it around or face major changes.

No motion was made today, the city, however, is looking to move things forward in its next meeting Feb. 15.