State

Ambulance company is shutting Turlock center

TURLOCK — American Medical Response is closing its base here.

Company officials said moving ambulances from the Lander Avenue location to a Salida deployment center won't affect service. But union representatives are concerned the change — set for late April or early May — will result in longer response times and a shortage of ambulances.

Jason Sorrick of AMR said the change is part of the new way of deploying ambulances that puts them where they're most likely to be needed.

Using historical call data, dispatchers determine where call volume is concentrated and place ambulances there.

For instance, Sorrick said, ambulances are posted around freeway areas during heavy commute times.

"Once they get the call, they're gone," he said. "In some cases, those could be critical minutes."

In addition, nonemergency ambulances used for tasks such as transporting patients from nursing homes to doctor's appointments will be dispatched out of Salida. That will result in four emergency medical technicians who now staff two ambulances in Turlock being reduced to part-time status, Sorrick said. Those employees will be allowed to apply for full-time jobs elsewhere in AMR.

He said AMR averages two transports per day in Turlock, not enough to justify paying for full-time EMTs who could not be used on emergency calls.

"The majority of these folks' shifts, they were sitting in the station house," Sorrick said. "They were not being used efficiently."

Emergency medical technician Lee Almeida, who has worked for AMR since it took over Turlock Ambulance in the 1990s, disagrees.

"We had four or five (transports) yesterday alone," he said Wednesday. He said his union is concerned that the change will require AMR to use more emergency ambulances for routine transports, leaving the Turlock area short for 911 responses.

A simple transport can take an hour or more, depending on where the patient needs to go and whether the ambulance crew has to wait to bring the person back home.

"We run numerous calls weekly that go to San Francisco or Oakland," he said. "When we do a transfer to Memorial (Medical Center in Modesto), that can take an hour and a half."

The deployment center also offered ambulance staff a place to clean the rig, shower and restock medical supplies.

Now, Almeida said, "We've got to drive all the way to the north side of Modesto."

With the deployment center in Turlock, "We don't go out of service."

Sorrick said that none of the agencies AMR works with, including fire departments and Mountain Valley Emergency Medical Services — which oversees ambulance services and policies in Stanislaus County — have problems with the plan.

Almeida is still skeptical and said the union will be keeping a watchful eye on AMR.

"We have a real serious concern," he said. "We work out there in the field, and we know what it's like to wait for another ambulance. It's not a good feeling."

Bee staff writer Patty Guerra can be reached at pguerra@modbee.com or 578-2343.

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