County ambulance negotiations begin

yamaro@mercedsunstar.comNovember 21, 2012 

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PLEASE DO NOT CROP OFF THE MERCY MEDICAL CENTER SIGN SUN-STAR PHOTO BY MARCI STENBERG Marisela Bettancourt, on the stretcher, is taken off an ambulance at Mercy Medical Center's new hospital on N. G Street Sunday morning. Patients at the old hospital on 13th Street were moved to the new hospital by ambulance.

MARCI STENBERG — Merced Sun-Star

— Merced County has initiated negotiations with American Medical Response to be the ambulance provider in the county.

The current provider is Riggs Ambulance Service, which has offered service to the community for more than six decades. Riggs' contract expires Dec. 31, said Jim Brown, county executive officer.

The county issued a request for proposals in April, and they were due at the end of May. The county has entered into negotiations with American Medical Response as a result of that process, which the state oversees.

However, as the county works through the process, it has offered to extend the contract with Riggs through the first quarter of next year, Brown said.

"We have initiated negotiations (with American Medical Response), which have not been finalized and a final decision has not been made," he said. "Until that decision is made, we are intending to extend a contract with Riggs in order to ensure that there's a continuity of ambulance service to the community."

Sonya Severo, the community relations manager for Riggs, said that officials are not allowed to comment while the negotiation process is ongoing. Representatives for American Medical Response could not be reached for comment.

"Since Riggs has been a longtime provider to this community, we would anticipate that all parties, for the benefit of the public, would work together to ensure that ambulance service continue in a smooth way," Brown said.

The county is required by law to act as an Emergency Medical Services Agency, Brown said, overseeing the delivery of those services.

But the county still has to work under guidelines and parameters of the California Emergency Medical Services Authority. That state agency has oversight of the request for proposals for emergency ambulance service.

Such emergency services are part of a no-cost contract for Merced County. The current provider, Riggs, charges a fee for the services it delivers, which is billed to the patients or their insurance, Brown said.

"It's not a line (item) in our county budget," he said.

Bob McLaughlin, spokesman for Mercy Medical Center, declined to comment on what impacts, if any, this would have on the hospital and its patients.

Reporter Yesenia Amaro can be reached at(209) 385-2482 or yamaro@mercedsunstar.com.

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