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Las Vegas ambulance buyout would pair former rivals

LAS VEGAS A buyout deal is bringing together two former corporate foes who once battled over the right to provide ambulance services across the Las Vegas Valley.

Emergency Medical Services Corp., the Colorado parent company of American Medical Response, said it plans to acquire MedicWest Ambulance of North Las Vegas.

Executives of neither company would disclose the financial value of the stock-purchase agreement, which was announced Monday.

Both sides said the deal has key advantages for each operation, and for the patients the companies serve.

For Emergency Medical Services, the purchase dovetails with efforts to boost market share and improve economies of scale in the cities it serves, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer William Sanger, said Tuesday.

And MedicWest will be able to proceed with a $2 million plan to buy a new ambulance every month for the next year and a half, Executive Partner John Wilson said. Also, as part of a larger, publicly traded company, MedicWest employees will have access to more career opportunities.

The two companies will also unify their communications centers so each provider can see - and deploy - the other's ambulances.

"The largest upside for the 911 user is going to be the assurance that they'll know the closest ambulance is going to be there every single time," Wilson said. "We're also going to be able to pool resources and medical directors together to focus on clinical issues and take our level of clinical sophistication to the next level."

The combined companies aren't planning layoffs among paramedics or emergency medical technicians, Wilson said.

MedicWest will keep its brand name and continue to serve North Las Vegas and parts of Clark County. American Medical Response will maintain its existing service areas in Las Vegas and the county.

The merger is the latest installment in a story that began in 1999, when MedicWest, then doing business as Southwest Ambulance, petitioned local municipalities for contracts to compete with area monopoly American Medical Response.

American Medical Response, which had been the county's only private ambulance provider for four decades, sued to stop negotiations between MedicWest and the Clark County Commission. A district court judge ruled in July 2000 that the commission could discuss an agreement with MedicWest, and the two signed a 911-service pact in September 2000.

The North Las Vegas City Council voted in February 2000 to allow MedicWest to compete for 911 patients inside its city limits.

The Las Vegas City Council that same month denied MedicWest's application to provide 911 transports to Las Vegas residents, but the council did give the nod to transports from the company's nonemergency division.

Amid the contract talks, representatives of both businesses traded barbs in the local media. MedicWest officials accused executives at American Medical Response of trying to protect their monopoly to improve the company's appeal to potential buyers; American Medical Response's officials said allowing MedicWest in would result in big layoffs among clerical staff as their company received fewer calls for service.

Wilson, a founder of MedicWest when it launched eight years ago, said Tuesday that he has no reservations today about American Medical Response's services.

Emergency Medical Services Corp. bought American Medical Response from Laidlaw in 2005, and the new owner has emphasized local decision-making over centralized management, Wilson said.

"AMR is a far different company than it was seven years ago," Wilson said. "Emergency Medical Services changed the structure back to a local operating unit backed by national resources. It's a much different model, and one I'm far more comfortable with."

The Clark County Commission, the Las Vegas City Council and the North Las Vegas City Council will have to approve the buyout before it can close, Wilson said.

Las Vegas City Councilman and Mayor Pro Tem Gary Reese said he didn't believe the council would need to approve the deal, so he wouldn't comment on any potential regulatory issues that might emerge as municipalities discuss the purchase.

Representatives of the Clark County Commission and the North Las Vegas City Council didn't return phone calls seeking comment before press time.

Executives of Emergency Medical Services said they expect the transaction to close within two months.

Shares in Emergency Medical Services rose $1.70, or 4.65 percent, Tuesday to close at $38.27 on the New York Stock Exchange.

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