Our View: Redoing ambulance bid is right

January 30, 2013 

The Merced County Supervisors made the correct decision in throwing out the bids for the exclusive contract to provide emergency ambulance service for local residents.

The supervisors overwhelmingly agreed, as evidenced by their unanimous vote, that the process was flawed and needed to be redone, much to the joy of Riggs Ambulance Service and the consternation of American Medical Response.

Hiring a consultant to ensure the bidding process is clear, well-defined and transparent should be money well spent. Solid oversight now will prevent missteps later and give county staff important support in managing the coming process.

However, it's disturbing to hear it could take 15 months to complete the rebidding and make a selection. The county needs to expedite. We believe an efficient and comprehensive process can be completed by the end of summer.

Clearly there will be some changes this time around. Perhaps most significantly, local preference points won't be part of the equation, based on the direction the state gave the county.

That's bad news for Riggs, which will likely have to craft an entirely new bid to try to make up for the lost local preference points it counted on initially. It also will have to come up with some answers to problems that surfaced during the last go-round: mutual aid requests, so-called Status 0 events and overreliance on the Westside Ambulance District.

And if Riggs' recent letter to the county stating it would be a half-million dollars in the red in a few months under their initial bid was accurate, then crafting a new proposal that will keep them in the black for years to come is essential. That could mean charging more, because the county can't be expected to overhaul the entire emergency ambulance service system just to keep Riggs afloat.

AMR hasn't committed to a new bidding process. Its officials have suggested that the firm could file a lawsuit against the county.

But if AMR believes it has the superior operation and would deliver the best service, then resubmitting its original bid with a few tweaks to satisfy any new guidelines would seem not only cost-effective but also a no-brainer.

Following Tuesday's decision, an AMR official suggested it was politics at its worst. That's just sour grapes and too naive to believe. After all, elected officials often don't do what one side or the other wants them to do.

What AMR has to do is more effectively make its case to those elected officials and the public, focus on the quality of service it can provide and drop the we-know-what's- best-for-you tone.

Riggs will have second chance to makes its pitch. AMR will get another shot at winning folks over, and the supervisors will have the political cover to let the process play out in favor of Riggs, AMR -- or any other provider that might surface.

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