Tulsa Fire Department Bids to Control Ambulance Service

This year's proposal would keep all EMSA medical workers


SHANNON MUCHMORE, Tulsa World Staff Writer | | Monday, August 15, 2011

TULSA, Okla. -- The Tulsa Fire Department is again proposing to take responsibility for area ambulance service in a plan it says would save money and streamline emergency medical services. Every five years, the city evaluates the performance of the Emergency Medical Services Authority, the current ambulance service provider, and considers whether to change emergency medical operations. Since 1996, the Fire Department has proposed shifting to a Fire Department-based ambulance system.

This year's proposal, which is due in October, would keep all EMSA emergency medical workers. It would move administrative functions to the city and create some Fire Department-based ambulance crews.

"We're not saying that everybody has to be a firefighter," said Michael Baker, director of emergency services for the Fire Department. "And that was always the case in the past."

EMSA is a public trust with oversight by a board of trustees that includes eight members appointed by the mayor. EMSA also has an independent medical director and contracts with Paramedics Plus to provide ambulance service. The Fire Department proposal would not change the basic organization or the contractor, Baker said.

Steve Williamson, CEO of EMSA, said the agency looks forward to the discussion and seeing what the Fire Department proposes.

"We haven't seen the Tulsa Fire Department's proposal this year, so I can't address specifics about it," he said. "But we've looked at many system models over the years and benchmarked EMSA's operations and financial performance against comparable markets across the country. There simply isn't a better system out there that provides the high quality of emergency medical care that we do at any better price."

Mayoral Chief of Staff Terry Simonson said Mayor Dewey Bartlett has been evaluating the situation for about six weeks. EMSA and the Fire Department gave their proposals to Bartlett and a group of 10 people about a month ago. Bartlett has been in close contact with the mayor of Oklahoma City, which also uses EMSA, as well as with mayors from other cities in EMSA's coverage area, such as Bixby, Jenks and Sand Springs, Simonson said.

Bartlett is also looking at a citizen survey from earlier this year and the potential financial impact of changing operations, Simonson said.

"The mayor wants to make sure it is comprehensive in all those respects," he said.

Fire Department officials say their proposal could generate at least $3.4 million in revenue from transports by Fire Department-based ambulance units. They also say overhead costs could be lowered by consolidating or contracting some administrative functions and training, as well as by using the city's bid requirements for equipment, Baker said, citing the struggling economy.

"I don't think the city is in a position where it cannot have oversight of those dollars," he said.

Williamson said switching the way emergency medical services operate in Tulsa is risky.

"In Tulsa, we have excellent, independent medical oversight, the support of the medical community and a team of paramedics and first responders that work very well together," he said. "It is pretty hard to poke holes in the system. Certainly not enough to incur a huge risk financially and medically."


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