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Union Urges Ambulance Service Bid in Calif.

RIVERSIDE, Calif. -- The union representing about 1,000 CAL Fire/Riverside County firefighters is the latest to suggest the county should seek competitive bids for ambulance services.

For the past six months Riverside County supervisors have been mulling whether to renew their longstanding contract with American Medical Response, the exclusive provider of ambulance service in most of the county. AMR has operated in Riverside County for more than 30 years. Its county contract, which is worth an estimated $95 million and has never been competitively bid, is up for a three-year renewal.

In an undated letter to Riverside County supervisors, CDF Firefighters Local 2881 Riverside chapter director Ray Martinez urged a competitive bidding process, noting the county's population growth in the last three decades and suggesting a need to review the way emergency medical services are run. Martinez said Monday that he had sent the letter to Supervisor Marion Ashley and planned to send it to the other four supervisors.

"Through a competitive bidding process, the county will be able to modernize its existing response model, resulting in faster response time and better patient care," the letter said. "Furthermore, we believe that healthy competition will serve to improve service delivery and, more importantly, patient outcomes."

Martinez stressed that his members work closely with AMR and he has no complaints with the company.

"It just makes things transparent and it only makes for good business," he said. "I think with the rapid growth of Riverside County it's probably time for a review."

Ashley said Monday afternoon he had not seen Martinez's letter.

"There's a lot of pro and con on this. I'm going to listen to all sides," Ashley said. "I'm not going to make my decision before we even discuss it in public."

Riverside County Emergency Medical Services Agency spokesman Jose Arballo said agency officials are still working to come up with a recommendation for supervisors and no date is scheduled to discuss the contract.

Thomas McEntee, AMR's general manager for Riverside County, did not return a message seeking comment Monday. In a written response, company spokesman Jason Sorrick said, "AMR is 100 percent compliant under our contract, and we are certainly open to any changes the county sees as necessary to improve patient outcomes."

As part of the company's proposed contract extension, Sorrick wrote, AMR has pledged to improve communications by developing a two-way EMS radio system and to update medical equipment on its ambulances. And the company has backed a dispatch system that could better prioritize calls.

Several city leaders and officials from other agencies, including Murrieta and Moreno Valley and the Riverside County Fire Chiefs Association, also have backed a competitive bid process.

Murrieta City Councilman Alan Long said bidding the contract would allow the county to include improved services such as faster response times in the bid criteria.

"The competition will bring out the best service for the best price," Long said.


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