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Ambulance Contract War Heats Up in California County

A process to determine which company or companies will provide ambulance services to Butte County for the next several years came off the back burner at meetings today in Chico and Oroville.

Officials from the county's two current ambulance providers, Enloe and First Responder, were told that requests for proposals would soon be coming their way.

Neither company has a lock on the business, but Rick Keller, a partner with contract administrator Fitch & Assoc. of Platte City, Mo., said "There is no crisis in Butte County" that indicates a change is necessarily needed.

A call for proposals was slated for 2007, but stalled when a lawsuit questioning the right of ambulance companies to have exclusive service areas was filed by a third company, seeking a share of Butte County's business.

A court decision upheld the notion of exclusive service areas, but decreed that a competitive bid process was required.

Keller said the meeting in Chico was attended by at least two companies from out of the area.

The county will be divided into two exclusive service areas, although one company could wind up handling both, Keller said.

While exact boundaries are still to be delineated, Keller said one area generally includes north Chico, the Paradise ridge and Oroville. The other will include south Chico and the south and west areas of the county, including Gridley and Biggs.

He said the current plan of Enloe and First Responder taking calls on a rotating basis will be eliminated.

Keller said Sierra-Sacramento Valley Emergency Medical Services will actually award the contract or contracts, based on a competitive process which will look at such issues as how well the ambulance company integrates its services with other medical providers.

"It would impact FlightCare, though we are not sure to what degree," said Enloe Director of Emergency Services Marty Marshall concerning the possible loss of the ground ambulance contract. "FlightCare is part of our tightly integrated Emergency Services System, and losing the contract would erode that system."

Pricing will be another important element, Keller said, with higher points awarded for companies that come in with the lowest cost for services. Price increases during the contract period must be tied to inflation, Keller said.

In about 30 days, Keller said companies interested in serving Butte County may receive a timeline.

Keller is involved in negotiating ambulance contracts for several California counties. Winning bidders in Butte County will get an exclusive five-year contract, with the possibility of an automatic, second five-year renewal.

In the past, Keller said, companies that have taken over new service areas in California have agreed to hire qualified personnel from the companies they replace.



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