Service to switch hands



Diana M. Alba | | Saturday, June 30, 2007

LAS CRUCES At midnight today, one contract will expire and another will begin.

Ending will be the tenure of Southwest Ambulance, which has provided emergency transport services in most of Do a Ana County for the past four years. Beginning will be the county's contract with another company, the Colorado-based American Medical Response.

What should be notable as the transition occurs?

Nothing, company officials say.

"The public will notice little change," said American Medical Response general manager Brad Davison. "At the stroke of midnight ... , Southwest will stop running calls, and AMR will start. If you call before midnight, Southwest will respond. If you call at the stroke of midnight or after, AMR will respond."

Davison said AMR plans to be in place at the same ambulance staging points throughout the county as Southwest Ambulance one hour before the official switch occurs.

The Do a Ana County Board of Commissioners in April approved a bid from AMR to become the new ambulance provider for the county. The contract will last four years, with the possibility of four additional, one-year extensions.

After expressing concerns in February about the procurement process, Southwest Ambulance

Do a Ana County will pay AMR a $1.2 million annual subsidy to cover costs of uninsured patients, up from the $590,000 per-year subsidy given to Southwest Ambulance. County officials have said a larger subsidy was offered because the coverage area was expanded to include Hatch and because they've created a requirement to respond faster to residents' calls.

Davison said AMR has been wrapping up preparations in recent days.

"We've got last-minute details we're attending to, getting some supplies on the trucks," he said. "We're expecting a smooth transition."

The county has been in contact with AMR about the switchover and has coordinated with other entities, including area hospitals and the 911 call center, said Silvia Sierra, health and human resources director for the county.

"We've had two transition meetings," she said. "The hospitals have been brought into the loop; all the main stakeholders are on board. We have faith things will go smoothly, and have confidence in the service AMR will provide to Do a Ana County."

Sierra said a county staff person will be on hand at the 911 call center tonight to observe the transition.

Davison said many of the 60 employees at AMR are former Southwest Ambulance staff.

Sierra said AMR will have 10 ambulances on duty at any one time.

"It's not necessarily a requirement, but the way we're going about this contract, we have certain expectations for the response times," she said. "It's up to the provider, knowing that if they don't meet the response times, there will be penalties imposed."

Sierra said Southwest Ambulance on average had seven to eight ambulances on duty at a time.

Davison said AMR will start operations with 11 new ambulances, and it's fleet will total 16. One of those vehicles will be equipped to transport very heavy patients, he said.

County Commission Chairwoman Karen Perez said she believes AMR will do a good job.

"We've very carefully assessed their background, references, and all first appearances indicate they're going to be excellent," she said.

AMR isn't new to Do a Ana County; the company provided ambulance service to the county for a 10-year period that ended in 2003.

Southwest Ambulance released a statement Friday about its departure.

"It's been an honor to serve the county," said division general manager John Cole. "We thank our many dedicated and talented employees for their professionalism and skills over these last four years."

AMR has 17,000 employees and provides service in 250 locations across the country, according to its Web site.

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