MERCED -- New ways of solving old problems.
That was the mantra that led Kraig Riggs, president of Riggs Ambulance Service, to contact Sierra Medical Services Alliance, or SEMSA -- a Nevada nonprofit emergency medical group -- nearly five years ago.
"He had this family-owned business and wanted to take it to the next level," said Klark Staffan, SEMSA's vice president and chief operating officer. "So he contacted us. We were able to bring a huge amount of experience."
Riggs asked SEMSA to do a full business assessment in 2006, looking at the agency's ground operations, safety-and-risk management, financial management and company culture.
The three-month assessment rendered some improvement opportunities, Staffan said.
"We were impressed with what he was able to achieve, but there were areas of opportunity -- fine-tuning opportunities to make his business better," Staffan said, including getting certified by the Commission on Accreditation of Ambulance Services -- a "Gold Standard" for EMS systems.
Another significant challenge Riggs faced was getting paid for the services his company provided in Merced County.
"Reimbursement in this industry is becoming very problematic," Staffan said. "Merced has one of the highest (percentages of) Medi-Cal recipients. It became imperative that we needed to propose something sustainable to the county."
Soon, what started as a business evaluation turned into a partnership, Staffan said. "Then we started talking about the opportunity to manage his company to help him reach the next level," Staffan noted. "We continued to implement improvements on what was already in place."
SEMSA already provided ambulance service to Lassen County, where officials reported being satisfied with its performance.
"My entire district is rural, and there were only two cases that SEMSA didn't make their response time," said Bob Pyle, a Lassen County supervisor. "They charge nothing to be at high schools, rodeos and other community events -- so we're extremely happy to have SEMSA."
By partnering with a non-profit like SEMSA, Riggs realized he could save money and his operation would become more sustainable by applying for grant opportunities and not having to pay some federal taxes.
Even though the partnership happened five years ago, it sparked many questions during the county's current bidding process.
Some wondered if Riggs is still a "local" company if they are partnering with a Nevada-based organization.
Riggs General Manager Don Vonarx said Riggs is still a local company because it employs local people and keeps revenue in Merced County. He said there's been no visible change resulting from the SEMSA partnership.
In May, SEMSA-Riggs submitted its bid for the current contract as a nonprofit. Vonarx said that since Riggs Ambulance Service Inc., the current contract holder in Merced County, couldn't sign its contract over to SEMSA, it made more sense for them to bid for the contract as a nonprofit.
An Ambulance Service Subcontractor Agreement between Riggs and SEMSA from January 2012 outlines specific terms if SEMSA-Riggs wins the current bid. It includes SEMSA "hiring and managing all employees of Riggs, managing all accounts receivables and rights to the Riggs name in providing ambulance service."
The contract reads as though SEMSA would completely take over.
That's because it will take over, Staffan said, but just the ambulance operation.
"We'd be taking the ambulance department and moving it under SEMSA," Staffan said. "Riggs, the corporation, would continue to exist with Kraig as president. He will be an employee under this contract."