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Red Bull U.S. Grand Prix Switches Ambulances

MONTEREY COUNTY, Calif. -- A contract dispute between Laguna Seca raceway officials and Westmed Ambulance has prompted a late switch in ambulance providers for this weekend's Red Bull U.S. Grand Prix.

American Medical Response will step in to provide 11 ambulances and emergency medical staff for the heavily attended three-day event, which runs Friday through Sunday.

AMR is set to replace Westmed as Monterey County's ambulance provider on Sept. 1, taking over on a one-year interim basis.

Gill Campbell, Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca CEO and general manager, said Westmed representatives notified raceway officials just a few weeks ago that they would need more money an undetermined amount in order to provide ambulance coverage for the motorcycle race.

Campbell said she understood that Westmed had difficulty the past few years meeting its obligations, as part of its contract with the county, to provide ambulance coverage at Laguna Seca. But she said there was no way the Sports Car Racing Association of the Monterey Peninsula, which hosts the event, could commit to an "open-ended" financial arrangement, even at such a late date.

"I told (Westmed) that wasn't our problem," Campbell said, adding that raceway officials were left scrambling for an alternative. "AMR came through with flying colors. It was a little scary."

Westmed chief administrator Allen Cress agreed that company officials asked for more money because of losses incurred in covering past Laguna Seca events, but disagreed that it was a "last-minute" change.

"We've been working on this for several months," Cress said. "The last few years we've lost money on this and we weren't going to lose money on this event, which is a for-profit money-maker for them. We're not going to continue to subsidize the event."

Campbell said it will cost more money to bring in AMR for the race, but didn't provide details.

Though none of the 22 paramedics and emergency medical technicians being brought in to staff the ambulances at the event are from Monterey County, Emergency Medical Services director Tom Lynch said he is confident AMR will do the job. Lynch said AMR has adequate personnel and the ability to communicate with local hospitals.

"I don't have any concerns," Lynch said.

Eight ambulances will be stationed around the race track, one at each turn on the winding road course, and three units will be reserved for spectators. About 120,000 race fans are expected to visit the event over its three-day duration.

Last year, there were 21 emergency service calls and 11 transports to the hospital from the raceway. In 2006, triple-digit temperatures resulted in several people being taken to the hospital for heat-related illness.

Westmed is still providing ambulance coverage for the California Rodeo Salinas this week.

A year after taking over ambulance service in the county in January 2006, when it replaced AMR, Westmed announced losses of more than $2 million, prompting the company to make staffing changes and relax its response times in some areas. County supervisors also had to subsidize the company to help it make payroll, and to avoid deeper cuts to personnel and service.

Earlier this month, supervisors approved an early termination of the county's contract with Westmed about midway through its five-year term.

Jim Johnson can be reached at 753-6753 or jjohnson@montereyherald.com.

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