MERCED -- Although a final decision hasn't been made, American Medical Response is moving ahead with plans to take over Merced County's emergency medical services by reaching out to rival Riggs Ambulance employees.
AMR announced Friday that it will host four meetings in Merced during January, inviting the public to attend the first one, an open house on Thursday.
The company also has launched a website for Riggs employees to get more information, www.amrmerced.com.
Jason Sorrick, AMR spokesman, said the goal of the meetings is to address concerns and make the potential transition to AMR as smooth as possible.
"The purpose of the meeting is to answer any questions Riggs employees have about what it would be like to work for AMR," Sorrick said. "We want to make sure the Riggs employees are as comfortable as possible coming over to AMR and understanding what the benefits are in working for us."
A letter of intent to award the contract was issued to AMR on Dec. 14, but a final decision on the contract is expected at a board meeting Jan. 29. AMR won the bidding for the county's contract by four points in October over Riggs, the longtime Merced provider.
However, Riggs is requesting the supervisors overturn the initial decision.
A public hearing on the issue in December included the county staff's reasons for recommending AMR and impassioned pleas by Riggs employees to keep the contract with the local provider.
But AMR officials say the transition process can take months so they scheduled the meetings for Riggs employees now.
During Thursday's open house, Riggs employees will have the opportunity to meet with AMR's management staff, medical directors, operational staff and supervisors from neighboring counties.
Topics of discussion will include everything from employee uniforms to AMR's company culture, system status, deployment posts and potential work shifts.
Sorrick said they also will discuss AMR's employee benefit package, including medical, dental, vision and retirement plans. "We want them to know what advantages are available to them as an AMR employee," Sorrick noted.
Riggs Ambulance Service General Manager Don Vonarx said he isn't sure how many Riggs employees will turn out for the meetings, but said the announcement is causing a stir for his team.
"From our point of view, it's caused more confusion and stress in our work force," Vonarx said. "By doing so, they've caused even more anxiety because now employees are wondering if the decision has already been made."
According to AMR's proposal, it intends to hire 15 to 20 EMT and paramedic positions in addition to Riggs' incumbent work force. Sorrick said that amounts to six additional ambulances per day, about 15 total per day.
Sorrick said taking steps now ensures the company is fully prepared to take over the contract in May.
"We have to start the process before the decision is solidified by the board; otherwise we risk not having everything prepared to take over," he said. "We're confident that when the board looks at this, they'll see what's better for the county and will bring in a system that surrounding counties already benefit from."
"I think it's highly premature on AMR's part," Vonarx said Friday of the planned meetings.
But Sorrick said some transitional processes, such as preparing uniforms, clearing background checks and verifying employee certifications, are time-consuming.
To offer Riggs employees more opportunities to attend, AMR scheduled the meetings at different times.
"These folks work on a 24-hour scale so we want to make sure they have ample opportunity to meet with AMR's management team to get their questions answered," Sorrick said.
Following the initial open house on Jan. 10, the three remaining meetings are for Riggs employees only.
Reporter Ramona Giwargis can be reached at (209) 385-2477 or email@example.com.
AMR Open House
TIMES: 10-11 a.m., 11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m., 2-3 p.m., 3:30-4:30 p.m.
WHERE: Hampton Inn & Suites, 225 S. Parsons Ave.
ADDITIONAL MEETINGS *:
Jan. 17 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Jan. 22 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Jan. 25 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
* Riggs Ambulance Service employees only. Same location.
MORE INFORMATION: www.amrmerced.com