MODESTO — Stanislaus County's new agreements with ambulance providers for the first time require them to negotiate pacts with fire districts that assist with medical emergencies.
The policy change addresses a long-standing issue between ambulance companies and local fire departments, which often respond to the same emergency medical service calls.
Full-time or volunteer fire personnel may assist with lifting patients or begin first aid if they arrive first. Fire departments are not reimbursed, however.
Stanislaus County supervisors recently approved five-year agreements with ambulance providers that take effect May 1 and give them three months to start contract discussions with fire agencies if they want their support.
The contracts will formalize what assistance they want from fire personnel in responding to calls and transporting patients, and will establish reimbursements for those services.
Supervisor Bill O'Brien noted that one Saturday's log for the Modesto Regional Fire Authority included five fires and 71 emergency medical service calls.
The county is obligated to maintain an orderly system for ambulance service. It does that through a joint powers group, Mountain-Valley Emergency Medical Services Agency, which includes Stanislaus and four mountain counties.
Officials took a harder look at renewing agreements with a half- dozen private and public ambulance providers in Stanislaus; the contracts were extended beyond Oct. 31 expiration dates while language was hammered out.
Ambulance providers will pay steeper fines if they fail to respond to life-threatening emergencies within standard response times.
The agreements will work on improving the dispatch system to reduce transfers of medical emergency calls between public safety dispatch centers.
In a first phase, computer systems are supposed to be integrated so the same information is displayed on dispatch-center screens.
The contracts also set parameters for the patient fees charged for ambulance services.
Supervisor Terry Withrow was successful in getting an amendment to enable Mountain-Valley's executive director to negotiate for a decrease in fees based on operating revenues.
Withrow said ambulance providers could profit after the Affordable Care Act extends insurance coverage to millions of Californians in 2014.
Rather than writing off a large percentage of patient charges because of inability to pay, ambulance companies could double or triple their collections, Withrow suggested.
"There could be a real windfall for them," the supervisor said.
The board added a provision that rates could be based on a periodic review of operating revenue.
Modesto Bee staff writer Ken Carlson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2321.