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AMR Raises Concerns Over Consultant Writing Contract

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo.-- A county official promised Friday that the region's ambulance provider would get a fair shot at a new contract despite its concerns that a consultant has a conflict of interest.

American Medical Response, the county's ambulance contractor under a 10-year deal that ends next year, expressed concerns in a letter dated Tuesday about two officials with Public Safety Research Group of Phoenix, the consultant hired to write the bid requirements and new contract.

The consultant's managing partner, Jon Altmann, worked on the corporate staff of Rural Metro Corp. until 2000. Rural Metro is an AMR competitor that has expressed interest in the El Paso County contract, the letter said.

"Mr. Altmann's industry ties may serve as fertile grounds for protests from any number of different bidders," said the AMR letter, signed by Mark Bruning, chief of operations for AMR in El Paso County.

Altmann declined to comment on behalf of the firm and its officials, referring questions to the Emergency Services Agency board.

The letter also said Gary Ludwig, who will help draft the request for proposals for an ambulance service contract, holds a position with the International Association of Fire Chiefs and is "an outspoken proponent of fire-based EMS, including direct criticism of AMR, which is well documented in his articles and presentations."

AMR noted that "almost all" of Ludwig's experience is with systems that rely on fire department transport or those seeking to expand into transport service.

El Paso County ESA chairwoman Sallie Clark, also an El Paso County commissioner, said the selection process will be fair.

Clark promoted the idea of the Colorado Springs Fire Department taking over emergency medical transport when she served on the City Council several years ago. She has downplayed that position after being elected a county commissioner.

The county could be in a jam if the city took over transport, because some believe it would be hard to attract a private ambulance company to handle only the more sparsely populated rural areas.

AMR also said in the letter it disagreed with statements made at an ESA meeting that conflicts of interest can't be avoided because most ambulance consultants have worked for ambulance companies in the past.

"The citizens, the community and the potential bidders all deserve a process that is free from conflicts and ensures that the best possible bidder is fairly selected," the letter said. AMR asked the board to reconsider the Phoenix firm's hiring or adopt safeguards to ensure the process is free of conflicts.

Clark said Friday the four consultants who bid had previous employment with private ambulance companies.

"I have confidence in the contractor chosen by the board," she said. "PSRG was open and forthright in the process. I have confidence we'll have a fair bidding process."

She emphasized that the consultant, which will be paid $40,250, won't serve on the selection committee, whose members have not been chosen.

Jay Fitch, president of Fitch & Associates of Platte City, Mo., an emergency services consultant that has no connection to the county's selection process, said the key to whether a relationship poses a conflict is disclosure.

It appears the Phoenix firm disclosed its prior associations.

Fitch said his firm typically would recommend a local government require consultants to have experience in multiple system designs -- private and public, for example.

"If someone in their entire body of work has never recommended anything but one brand, it's like Ford saying, 'You can have any color you want as long as it's black.'"

CONTACT THE WRITER: 636-0238 or zubeck@gazette.com

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