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Riverside (Calif.) Ambulance Debate Rekindled

RIVERSIDE, Calif. -- Riverside officials again will be asked to decide whether the city needs more than one ambulance service, after voting in October to stick with a single company.

American Medical Response is Riverside County's exclusive provider of 911 ambulance service, but everywhere in the county except the city of Riverside, more than one company may take patients on non-emergency ambulance runs.

The city of Riverside allows any ambulance company to apply for a permit to run non-emergency calls, but so far AMR is the only company to receive one.

Corona-based Mission Ambulance's application was rejected last month, and the council will soon discuss whether to give a permit to Alpha Ambulance.

Council members turned down Mission based on Fire Chief Steve Earley's conclusion that there is no public need for another ambulance service. The council's public safety committee on Monday recommended LA-based Alpha be denied a permit for the same reason -- a lack of public need, and to a lesser degree, the fact that splitting the ambulance calls with another company would hurt AMR's financial viability.

Councilmen Andy Melendrez and Chris Mac Arthur, both on the public safety committee, said Tuesday they still don't see a need for another provider. "We would need to hear that AMR was not fulfilling the service that was required by our community," and Earley's investigation found medical facilities are satisfied with AMR, Melendrez said.

Alpha Ambulance General Manager Wes Kingsbury could not be reached Tuesday for comment. The full council still must vote on Alpha's application.

Ambulance service is a complex area of policy that is tightly regulated to ensure public safety, but also is largely provided by private, for-profit companies. Riverside's rejection of every application except AMR's has raised questions about whether the city truly has a non-exclusive system, as officials claim.

The issue is further complicated by a special contract under which AMR helps pay for the city's Fire Department paramedic program - funding which some fear might evaporate if AMR faces competition in the more lucrative non-emergency market.

Melendrez said officials need to decide whether they will allow competition or not, and they need to more clearly spell out what constitutes a public need for additional ambulance service. Also, if AMR predicts it will suffer from having another provider in the market, he said, "We need to see numbers that show there is a financial hardship."

AMR provides the county with overall income statements but does not separate emergency and non-emergency revenues.



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