The multi-jurisdictional agency that oversees emergency ambulance service in El Paso County will revisit its previously approved recommendation to extend American Medical Service's contract by two years after Colorado Springs officials said they're in private talks with AMR that some area officials fear could lead to the contract's demise.
AMR's contract is due to expire in December 2013, and the Emergency Services Agency which oversees the contract wants to extend it to December 2015. But the city has refused, and the city, having the highest volume of 911 medical calls, is in the driver's seat.
Colorado Springs Fire Chief Rich Brown appeared before the ESA board this afternoon to say the city is negotiating with AMR to find efficiencies. Translated, that means the city is trying to extract $2.4 million from AMR as a sort of franchise fee, though such a fee isn't contained in AMR's contract with the ESA.
The issue bubbled to the surface a couple months ago when the Independent reported the secret talks. Some ESA board members learned of the wheeling and dealing from the Indy's story and expressed concern about the opaque nature of the city's talks and intentions.
Brown assured the board the city doesn't intend to take down the ESA or erode service or drive rates up.
But ESA members expressed concern that if they don't find out the city's deal until June, and if it results in the city pulling out of the ESA, that gives the ESA only six months to find an alternative to the current arrangement.
In the past, ESA contracts have taken from a year to 18 months to negotiate. When City Councilor Merv Bennett, an ESA board member, said he doubts it would take that long, considering the city worked out a lease for city-owned Memorial Hospital earlier this year in only nine months, ESA vice chair Carl Tatum noted there are 27 entities who participate in the AMR contract deal under the ESA. They include El Paso County, several cities and fire districts, and getting everyone on board could take awhile, he said.
When ESA pressed Brown on moving quicker on the city's deal, he wouldn't budge, saying he would be back to the ESA in the first half of 2013. He said it's the city's intent to explore other possibilities, other models and "look at the system from the top down."
"Whatever negotiations have been going on, I find it disturbing," said ESA member John Scorsine.
ESA board member Jeffery Force said "there's a trust issue," and asked for the city to approve a one-year extension to the contract, rather than the two-year extension approved in June by the ESA board with city member Deputy Fire Chief Tommy Smith joining in the unanimous vote. Since then, the ESA has been told the City Council wouldn't approve the two-year extension, to December 2015, so it's never appeared on a Council agenda.
And today, Brown refused to say he would make such a recommendation.
After Brown left the meeting, though, Bennett offered to take a one-year extension to the Council for consideration. But first, the ESA board must approve a one-year deal, which was scheduled for January. Thereafter, the measure would go to the Board of County Commissioners and the City Council.
The reason this is such a big deal to the county and smaller members, such as fire districts, is that they believe it would be difficult to find a contractor to take on the rural areas where call volumes are low if the city isn't included in the mix.
The city has made overtures about running its own ambulance service, though Brown stopped short of saying as much today. Only yesterday, the city won licensing from the county for two squad vehicles the Fire Department uses to transport patients to the hospital, for which the city charges nothing.
To take over the ambulance work, the city would likely need to sink millions of dollars into equipment and vehicles and personnel.