March 10, 2014

Merced County opens bidding for ambulance contract

The bidding for Merced County’s permanent ambulance provider has begun, more than a year after the county canceled an award to a competing ambulance company and restarted the process.

The bidding for Merced County’s permanent ambulance provider has begun, more than a year after the county canceled an award to a competing ambulance company and restarted the process.

County officials confirmed the request for proposal document has been released, and ambulance companies have until April 15 to submit proposals for the five-year contract. The contract allows an extension for an additional five years.

In 2012, county staff recommended awarding the contract to American Medical Response, but longtime provider Riggs Ambulance Service protested the decision and claimed the bidding process was flawed. In January 2013, the Board of Supervisors rejected the recommendation to award the contract to AMR and voted to reopen the bidding process.

The bidding documents were prepared by a new consultant this year, county officials said, which led to several changes in Merced County’s overall ambulance system.

The county’s emergency response zones will now be divided into two sections: one for high-density calls and one for lower-density calls. The county had been split into four geographical regions.

Jim Clark, Merced County emergency medical services manager, said changing the response zones should improve the ambulance company’s allocation of resources. It also helps the company avoid “Status 0” events, which happen when there are no ambulances available to respond to calls.

“With those high and low zones, they know where to expect calls and they can strategize where to place their ambulances and staff,” Clark said.

Another change, he said, is related to sending a supervisor’s unit to the scene of a call. Riggs sends supervisor units to calls, which allows them to extend response times. The supervisor vehicles cannot transport patients, but can begin giving the patient basic care.

Though ambulance companies can continue allowing a supervisor to respond to calls, this practice will no longer add minutes to the clock. “They can still do it, but it’s just not going to affect response times,” Clark said. “Response times won’t be calculated based on that.”

The county has added fines for a series of infractions by the ambulance provider, including failing to respond, improperly handling of patient care records and not renewing certifications for paramedics and EMTs.

“It’s adding fines to things that we didn’t have before,” said Merced County Public Health Director Kathleen Grassi. “The purpose of those is to really tighten up the system and ensure that fines are levied for infractions, and it’s a deterrent for those things.”

The county added language that requires the ambulance company to provide “critical care transport,” which is used to transport a patient from one hospital to another for advanced treatment with a skilled nurse aboard.

AMR officials said the company offered critical care transport services to Merced County, but Riggs did not. Riggs officials last year said the company no longer offered critical care transport because there wasn’t enough demand for it, pointing to just 19 critical care requests in 2012.

AMR spokesman Jason Sorrick said he believes the company was the successful bidder in 2012 and should have been selected to serve the county. Despite the dispute, Sorrick said AMR has not ruled out bidding for the contract again.

“Our team is still reviewing the document and we won’t likely make a decision until closer to the deadline,” Sorrick said. “We still would look forward to the opportunity to be able to improve that system.”

Merced County’s one-year contract extension with Riggs Ambulance Service will expire Aug. 31. General Manager Steve Melander did not return calls for comment Monday.

A mandatory bidder’s conference is scheduled for 10 a.m. March 21 at the Merced County Administration Building, 2222 M St. The conference allows bidders to ask questions and will be open to the public.

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