MERCED -- While Riggs Ambulance Service battles to stay in Merced County, many residents are left wondering how the potential change in emergency service could impact their wallets.
A side-by-side comparison of proposals from American Medical Response and Riggs Ambulance Service shows AMR's rates are about 34 percent higher for an average patient charge, a difference of $699.
To be more specific, Riggs proposes an average patient charge of $2,069, while AMR proposes $2,768.23.
The average patient charge can consist of several categories: basic life support, advanced life support and critical care transport, which is a hospital-based transport service.
Riggs' proposed rate for basic life support is $1,200 and AMR's is $1,777.23. For advanced life support, Riggs plans to charge $1,600 while AMR's rate is $2,585.07.
Based on historical call volume data provided by Riggs, both companies estimate more than 20,000 transports per year, mostly advanced life support transports.
Both companies charge $45 per mile, starting from the patient's location, to the hospital. Additionally, AMR and Riggs charge $100 for oxygen, which Riggs estimates is used for 60 percent of its calls.
Jason Sorrick, AMR spokesman, acknowledged the rate increase, but said his company will be providing better care by putting more units into the system.
He said the company plans to invest $2.8 million in the first year of the contract, which will be used to purchase 25 new ambulances, heart monitors and other equipment.
Sorrick said AMR also plans to invest more than $600,000 per year on personnel, by adding five ambulances, hiring 15 to 20 additional EMT and paramedics, and offering a higher pay scale to retained Riggs employees.
Riggs Ambulance Service General Manager Don Vonarx said the additional positions do not replace the lost jobs for Riggs' billing and support staff. "It's true that AMR proposed more EMT and paramedics, but you cannot overlook the fact that many people here at Riggs will still lose their jobs at the end of the day." Vonarx said.
Another difference between the companies' proposed charges is their ability to provide critical care transport when a patient requires higher level of care.
Critical care transport, which includes a skilled nurse on board, is often used for patients with respiratory issues, but can be used to transport a patient from one hospital to another for advanced treatment. Sorrick said providing critical care transport is an advantage that will allow AMR to provide life-saving services.
"Part of the reason we were selected by Merced County is because we provide CCT care, and we're the leader in providing that," Sorrick said. "We're going to be running CCT, and those nurses are some of the most skilled professionals in the field."
Riggs officials said they offered critical care transport in the past, but stopped because there wasn't enough demand for the service, pointing to only 19 critical care requests in 2012.
Linda Diaz, Merced County's emergency medical services manager, said it's "definitely an advantage" that AMR provides critical care transport.
"The volume of calls is low, but when you have someone who is critically injured and needs transport, it's better to have those services available for the community," Diaz said. "There's a lot of medications and skills that go beyond a paramedic's scope of practice."
Chuck Kassis, chief operating officer of Mercy Medical Center, agrees, saying that critical care transport service is vital.