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Second Ambulance Service Possible in California City

Riverside's non-emergency ambulance service hasn't yet opened up to competition - but it still could.

The City Council has denied Orange-based Care Ambulance a permit that would have allowed the company to transport patients in the city, leaving American Medical Response as Riverside's only authorized ambulance service.

But with three other companies seeking permits, hospitals and patients could have additional choices later this year.

In Riverside County, AMR has a near-exclusive contract to handle 911 ambulance calls. Non-emergency trips, such as moving a patient between hospitals, are provided by a variety of companies outside the city of Riverside. The city requires a special permit that so far has been granted only to AMR.

Riverside officials have been debating the city's franchise system for several years, after questions arose about whether it unfairly limits competition. Some residents and medical providers also believe that having multiple ambulance services could lower rates and improve service.

Care was the first company to apply after the council revised its permit rules last fall. But on Tuesday, the council rejected the application, with Councilmen Paul Davis, Chris Mac Arthur, Jim Perry and Steve Adams voting against it.

Some council members didn't feel an additional company is needed, and at least one was concerned that Care had responded to a call in the city without a permit, which could be grounds for denial under the city's rules. At the meeting, officials said the unauthorized run involved a special team and vehicle that took a very ill infant to Irvine for care.

Care spokesman Bob Barry was unavailable for comment Friday but emailed a written statement that noted Riverside city and fire officials, area hospitals and medical care providers agree that the city needs additional inter-facility ambulance service.

Councilman Mike Gardner, who voted to give Care a permit, said that although the company should have checked with the city before picking up the infant, it was a special case.

"I don't think it was so serious that they shouldn't do business in our city," he said.

Three other companies - Americare Ambulance, Mission Ambulance and Cavalry Ambulance - have applied for permits to operate in Riverside. Interim Fire Chief Mike Esparza said Americare will be considered next, with a recommendation to the council's public safety committee coming possibly in a month or two.

Gardner said he's open to granting permits to other companies, but that's not a criticism of AMR's service. Lowering ambulance costs to patients is a valid issue for the council to consider, he said.

"We'll never know if having multiple providers changes the cost until we have multiple providers," he said.

Had Care been granted a permit, Esparza had suggested a six-month delay on other applications so he could evaluate the effects of adding a second provider, but some council members objected to a delay.

Esparza said Friday he will consider their comments but won't commit to either bringing back or dropping the proposed delay.

The council also has not yet set the franchise fee that ambulance companies would have to pay for a permit.


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