American Medical Response has provided life-saving ambulance service in Colorado Springs for decades under a contract with the city that involves working closely with the Fire Department. That could change with the signing of a contract in the next few days. The city intends to replace AMR if negotiators reach a contract agreement with Falck, an ambulance company based in Denmark.
We believe the mayor and other city officials mean well and want only the best for local residents in need of emergency care. Nevertheless, we have substantial concerns about this possible change in vendors.
Falck recently took over the ambulance contract in Alameda County, made up of Oakland, Calif., and surrounding suburbs. Thursday, Alameda made public a letter expressing grave concerns about Falck’s performance.
“It is now clear there are deficits in your system,” the EMS director wrote to Falck. “Noncompliance with response time requirements — particularly those pertaining to high-priority requests for service — is a serious matter. This letter serves as notice of noncompliance and as a demand for a corrective action plan.”
City officials here need to determine the validity of Alameda County’s complaint and get answers from Falck. If the letter accurately portrays the nature of this transition, we agree it is a “serious matter.” Failing to meet response times on high-priority requests means people die when they might otherwise be saved. We cannot tolerate any such transition in Colorado Springs.
The letter explains Falck failed to meet minimum requirements for emergency response times in July and August, the first two months of its Alameda operation, and accrued a whopping $372,500 in fines.
Even without this troubling claim by Alameda County, we have concerns about any transition to a new ambulance company in Colorado Springs. That is because our region, like the rest of the country, struggles with a shortage of paramedics likely to be exacerbated by a disruption in service providers.
AMR’s local operations manager told The Gazette the company plans to keep at least half its local workforce to continue serving El Paso County, nearby hospitals and other regional jurisdictions. On account of the paramedic shortage, AMR would be able to redeploy Colorado Springs employees to fill vacancies in the teams serving those nearby contracts. That would deprive Falck of the employees needed to adequately serve Colorado Springs. They cannot wave a magic wand and produce an adequate supply of paramedics seeking work.
In addition to these problems, we are concerned by the credible accusations of SGC Collaborative Solutions, a company that helps high-consequence industries, such as ambulance companies, operate with greater safety and reliability. A lawsuit claims Falck superimposed its logo on SGC’s proprietary literature and lied about the companies’ business relationship to win the Oakland contract.
Like the claim of Falk’s failure to meet response-time minimums, the lawsuit raises questions that require inquiry on the part of Colorado Springs.
Ambulance service might be the most important of all city contracts. When a heart attack strikes or a drowning child needs resuscitation, seconds make the difference between life and death.
No ambulance company is perfect, and AMR has had its ups and downs over the years. One complaint has been AMR’s reliance on the Colorado Springs Fire Department to meet response-time requirements. This arrangement, however, is contractual. At the city’s request, AMR pays the city $1.17 million each year in exchange for the Fire Department’s backup in achieving response times.
That is $1.17 million the provider cannot use to add its staff. If city officials don’t like that arrangement, regardless of the provider, they should change the contract and require the vendor to meet response-time minimums without the Fire Department’s paid participation. AMR did so successfully until the city created the paid-backup arrangement in 2014.
We urge Mayor John Suthers and others involved in these negotiations to proceed with extreme caution to avoid throwing the community’s EMS system into chaos. If they go with Falck, they should know exactly what they are getting. With a paramedic shortage and a fire department enduring budgetary problems and low morale, this is a difficult and potentially dangerous time to disrupt a system so integral to the public’s health and safety.