Meeting set over Riggs decision

County to hold session explaining ambulance move

jsmith@mercedsunstar.comDecember 4, 2012 

The Merced Board of Supervisors and the public know the county retracted an initial offer to longtime provider Riggs Ambulance Services in favor of American Medical Response.

What they don't know exactly is why.

County staff announced Tuesday they will hold a special public meeting to disclose both ambulance companies' service proposals and answer questions about the selection process.

The board has only seen the raw scores because of confidentiality reasons, said County Executive Officer Jim Brown. "Now they want a little bit more information about the particulars in the proposals," he said. "Are the levels of care the same? Are the ambulance hours the same? Truly, what does the proposal say about any transition of employees?"

The hearing will be held during the next regularly scheduled board of supervisors meeting at 10 a.m. on Dec. 18 at the County Administration Building.

The recent announcement that the county entered into contract negotiations with medical-service giant AMR elicited a significant response from the community, according to county supervisors.

"There's been an awful lot of telephone calls to every number I seem to have, as well as a lot of e-mails regarding this," said Supervisor Deidre Kelsey. "So I know there's a concern about the process."

Some members of the public have expressed concern because Riggs has been with the county for more than 60 years, said Supervisor John Pedrozo. "What I think we should do is put it out for the public so the public knows how the process works, having it sooner than later because the buzz is out there," he said.

State steps in

Some details have come to light.

The county initially sided with Riggs in July, giving the company preference for being local. However, AMR protested to the state.

The county then withdrew the offer in October, after the California Emergency Medical Services Agency, who must approve the final decision, intervened.

"The state has stepped in and said we cannot provide local preference points," Brown said. "So after that adjustment was made, AMR's score was greater than Riggs."

The companies scored very closely. According to county documents, AMR received a final score of 364.8, compared to Riggs' score of 360.6, after they lost 18 local preference points.

Riggs has asked for the entire process to be scrapped. However, county officials have said state involvement could make starting over significantly complicated.

"They could take the position that you had a perfectly adequate (request for proposals) to begin with," said Public Health Director Kathleen Grassi.The county has been trying to extend Riggs' contract through April to prevent a lapse in service while the selection process plays out, according to county officials. Riggs' existing contract expires Dec 31.

Officials are hoping to have the contract proposal before the Board of Supervisors by early February.

At the same time, it's recently come to the county's attention that the Local Emergency Medical Services Agency director may have to sign off on the final contract award.

"We're trying to better understand specific obligations, and how I would work with the board on this decision," said Grassi, who is also the director of LEMSA.

Reporter Joshua Emerson Smith can be reached at (209) 385-2486 or jsmith@mercedsunstar.com.

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