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Florida County Officials Hold Off on Private EMS Right to Work

WEST PALM BEACH -- County commissioners are going to hold off deciding whether to extend two private ambulance companies' exclusive rights to work with Palm Beach County Fire Rescue -- rights the companies have had for 14 years without having to face competitive bids.

The item was pulled from today's commission agenda at Commissioner Shelley Vana's request, after The Palm Beach Post reported Monday that some commissioners are not comfortable with giving the companies four more years.

American Medical Response and Medics Ambulance Service, the only private companies providing backup service to Fire Rescue since 2000, are seeking four-year extensions to contracts that are set to expire Dec. 31. At issue is whether the commission should grant their request or seek proposals from other ambulance companies.

Vana, who initially put the matter on today's agenda, said Monday she wants the proposal to be studied more closely.

AMR's parent company, Envision Healthcare, bought out Medics in May 2011, but company officials say the two firms operate independently.

In exchange for four-year contract extensions, the companies are offering to give up more of their business to Fire Rescue -- a move they say will save taxpayers at least $3 million.

Specifically, the companies are offering to let Fire Rescue handle up to 25 daily nonemergency transports from one hospital to another. The companies would continue providing most interfacility transports as well as providing backup to the county's Fire Rescue department on advanced life support and basic life support transports.

The County Commission already has extended the companies' contracts twice since 2000. In both instances, the companies agreed to let the county's Fire Rescue department assume more calls, which has generated $25 million a year in revenue for the county from Medicare and insurance companies, said Gary Brandenburg, an attorney representing AMR and Medics.

Fire-Rescue officials want more time to study the proposal, said County Administrator Bob Weisman said, citing one reason the item was pulled from Tuesday's agenda.

Another reason the item was pulled, Weisman said, was because of concerns by Vana about "the longevity of how long the firms have been in place.''

The next step will be to have the EMS Council, an advisory board, study the proposal and offer a recommendation to the commission.

Vana said the issue is difficult because AMR and Medics have a solid working relationship with Fire Rescue with few complaints.

"I'm not crazy about going out to bid just to go out to bid,'' said Vana, who said she has spoken about the issue with Fred Angelo, a county firefighter who serves as legislative vice president for the local firefighters' union.

"If it was a private company and they had someone who they thought was doing a great job, they wouldn't necessarily put it out to bid. But on a public perception standpoint, that's another we have to deal with.''

Angelo could not be reached for comment.

Brandenburg said he welcomes the delay because he questioned whether county staff had objectively presented the two companies' proposal in the backup material to today's meeting.

"It just didn't seem to us they were really going to be in a position to give us a real good consideration," he said. "It didn't make any sense to try to force this thing forward."

jcapozzi@pbpost.com Twitter: @jcapozzipbpost



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