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Richmond Ambulance Authority Takes Reigns from AMR

RICHMOND, Va.-- With the largest provider of ambulance services in the country officially out, the Richmond Ambulance Authority took full control over the city s ambulance response and emergency medical personnel at midnight on Saturday.

Don t expect the ambulances to turn into pumpkins.

The head of the authority expects a seamless transition -- one that will have no negative impact on the quality or swiftness of emergency response to city residents in need.

Everything is fine, RAA Executive Director Jerry Overton said. The medics have all passed their tests and screenings. The schedule is filled out. It s just going to happen.

American Medical Response, the private company contracted by RAA to provide personnel and management of the system for the past 11 years, had its contract terminated by the RAA board this fall. The company was to be paid $9 million this year.

RAA officials took action after a succession of months dating back to late last year in which the company did not meet standards for response times to emergencies.

Among the categories in which the company fell short was its obligation to respond to calls involving life-threatening emergencies within nine minutes.

Approximately 160 AMR employees, including about 90 paramedics and emergency medical technicians, will be employees of the Richmond Ambulance Authority, a government entity created by the state legislature and funded by the city to provide emergency medical service to Richmond. The authority owns all the ambulances and their equipment, in addition to the communications system and technology infrastructure.

Because of the provisions of its contract with AMR, Overton said there were limitations to how many changes the authority could implement prior to the transition. But he said officials have already identified several areas where changes from the way AMR managed the system could improve service and response times under authority management.

Among them:

  • Putting more ambulances on the street. Overton said when lower-priority calls for transportation of patients between medical facilities run high in the afternoon, a lack of units causes a backup that affects emergency response into the evening. Currently there are eight to 18 ambulances on the street, depending on the time and day of the week.
  • Relocation of ambulances. Overton said that currently some ambulances are stationed in areas where the roads and traffic conditions make it extremely difficult to mobilize and swiftly respond to a call.
  • Holding more units in reserve to respond to higher-priority emergencies. Overton said that under the current system, the one or two remaining available ambulances on the street would be dispatched to handle lower-priority transportation calls, leaving no units available to respond swiftly in an emergency.

The director said it is too early to determine whether such changes will result in increased costs to run the city s response system, in part because authority officials do not know how much profit AMR was making in its administration of the Richmond city contract.

They are a private company, Overton said of AMR, a subsidiary of Colorado-based Emergency Medical Response Corp. We are not. We ll be putting all the money back into the service. RAA is overseen by a board appointed by City Council.

Overton said the Ambulance Authority would quickly assemble a status plan in the coming weeks to identify what the system needs and how to make improvements. A key component of the plan, he said, will be input from the men and women providing emergency services who are on the street every day.

I think there s been a lack of communication that has not involved them in the process, Overton said. They ve got great experience. They have the knowledge, and it hasn t been used.

Contact Jim Nolan at (804) 649-6061 or jnolan@timesdispatch.com

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