Merced County letter favors AMR for ambulance contract

rgiwargis@mercedsunstar.comDecember 15, 2012 

— After weeks of debate over Merced County's emergency ambulance service, the county on Friday issued a letter of intent to award the contract to American Medical Response.

Both agencies -- Riggs Ambulance Service and AMR -- have been fighting for the contract and anxiously awaiting a final decision from county officials.

But that decision may not come until next year.

According to the letter issued Friday, the Merced County Board of Supervisors intends to "take action" and make a decision on the contract Jan. 29, 2013.

The county is still holding a public hearing regarding the contract at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday in the county's administration building.

After a brief presentation about the bidding process, officials will hear testimony from the public about the issue -- limited to five minutes per person.

Representatives from both Riggs and AMR said they plan to attend the public hearing to voice their concerns and plead their cases to the supervisors.

Friday's letter of intent to award the contract to AMR came after the Colorado-based ambulance company won the bidding for the Merced contract by four points in October over longtime Merced provider Riggs Ambulance Service.

According to county documents, AMR received a cumulative score of 364.8, compared with Riggs' score of 360.6 -- but only after Riggs lost 18 points, or 5 percent, in local preference points.

These additional points were originally awarded to Riggs for being the local vendor and because of the agency's "in-depth" understanding of the area.

But the county removed those 18 points after AMR appealed to the state regulatory agency, which said the local preference provided an unfair advantage for Riggs.

Riggs' management team said the bidding process was flawed, and they're proposing the county throw it out and start over.

Among other concerns, they say the directions given to each of the five evaluators of the bids were unclear.

"We're concerned about the instructions the evaluators received from the county -- which seemed to be very informal," Riggs Ambulance Service General Manager Don Vonarx said. "And the scoring differences in various categories were very widespread."

Another concern is the definition of "incumbent work force" -- which Riggs said usually includes all 130 employees it has on its payroll.

However, Riggs officials said the evaluators mistakenly thought incumbent work force included only those workers in uniform -- such as EMTs and paramedics -- not the administration, billing or support staff.

Thus, they may have awarded additional points to the competing proposal, even though they wouldn't hire the entire 130-person work force.

On the other side, AMR representatives said the bidding process was fair and that they deserve the contract because they are the most responsive bidder.

"We absolutely believe that it was fair," said AMR spokesman Jason Sorrick. "It's a disservice to waste the taxpayer dollars (with another bid). Some parts of the county have been underserved, and we can provide more efficient resources. We believe that we made a superior bid within that proposal."

Tuesday's public hearing will be held at the county administration building, 2222 M St. in Merced.

Reporter Ramona Giwargis can be reached at (209) 385-2477 or rgiwargis@mercedsunstar.com.

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