County seeks consultant to write ambulance bid parameters

rgiwargis@mercedsunstar.comMarch 20, 2013 

— Merced county officials are one step closer to determining which agency -- or individual -- will be tasked with drafting the new request for proposal for the county's emergency ambulance service contract. "At this point, we don't have a short list," said Mark Cowart, Merced County administrative services director. "But we are looking at the list of those consultants that responded last time."

Another option is to find a consultant who has recently provided these services in another county, Cowart said.

Although officials haven't decided if they'll put out a request for proposal to find the consultant, they may forego that process to save time.

"We're sensitive to that, and we want to get it done in as reasonable a period of time as we can," Cowart said. "We haven't made that decision, but it could save us a couple of months of work."

Kathleen Grassi, Merced County public health director, has been contacting other counties this week to find out what agencies they've used.

Through that process, as well as looking at the list of consultants who responded to the last bid, a few names have been identified -- Fitch and Associates, Diane Akers and The Abaris Group.

The Abaris Group, a consulting firm based in Martinez, was selected to draft the last request for proposal.

That process was criticized by longtime provider Riggs Ambulance Service, whose officials called it "flawed" and requested it be thrown out.

The Board of Supervisors unanimously agreed during a January meeting, and voted to restart the entire process -- rejecting a staff recommendation to award the contract to American Medical Response.

Before selecting a consulting firm, Grassi and Cowart said each agency will be carefully screened for potential conflicts of interest.

As with any purchasing contract, Cowart said, the agencies must provide full disclosure of any past dealings with Riggs, AMR or any other bidder.

A final decision should be made in the next few weeks, following a meeting with the purchasing department and county counsel, Grassi said.

County officials say they are working on finalizing Riggs' contract extension this week, which expires at the end of April.

The plan is to have the contract extension appear on the agenda during the next Board of Supervisor's meeting on April 9, Grassi said.

The contract would extend Riggs' service until the new bidding process can be completed, which could take up to a year.

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

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