TULSA, Okla. -- Mayor Dewey Bartlett has decided to stick with the current manager of the area's ambulance service despite a bid by the Tulsa Fire Department to take over.
"I just didn't see that a change was justified at this time," Bartlett said. "I didn't see any advantage, financially or medically." Bartlett told the Tulsa World the current arrangement works well, and uncertainty about federal health-care reform as well as public satisfaction with the current system led him to continue with the Emergency Medical Services Authority.
"One big worry over this whole thing is what might happen in Washington," he said.
Every five years, the city reviews EMSA's performance and considers whether to continue using it to run the area's emergency medical services. The window of opportunity to make changes ends in October. Since 1996, the Fire Department has proposed taking over responsibility for the emergency services.
This year's proposal would keep the trust intact and continue the relationship with the contractor that staffs the ambulances, Paramedics Plus. Fire Department officials said the plan would save money by consolidating administrative duties and training. It would also bring in about $3.4 million in revenue from transports by a few ambulances staffed entirely by firefighters, they said.
EMSA officials say the current setup is efficient and offers some of the best emergency medical care in the country. In a statement, fire officials said they were disappointed in the mayor's decision but would be supportive of it.
"The Tulsa Fire Department will continue to provide the highest quality emergency medical care as part of its mission," they wrote. "The department will also strive to promote dialogue with all EMS system providers and seek areas for improving the community's health."
Dennis Moseby, president of the Tulsa Firefighters Association, called the mayor's decision hasty and said the process wasn't open enough.
"To not give our proposal a thoughtful review is a disservice to the citizens of Tulsa," he said in a statement. "We can no longer allow decisions that impact the public to be shrouded in secrecy behind closed doors."
EMSA CEO Steve Williamson said in a statement the mayor's decision was a vote of confidence in the authority.
"EMSA has provided high-quality emergency medical services in an exceptionally cost-efficient manner for more than 33 years," he said. "The system design has worked very well for Tulsans and will continue to do so in the future."
Bartlett said a citizen survey from earlier this year showed 80 percent satisfaction with EMSA's response time and medical assistance. He also said the mayor of Oklahoma City, where EMSA also operates, and the mayors of cities surrounding Tulsa that receive its services were all happy with the current setup. Medical Director Jeffrey Goodloe supports the decision and doesn't think there are redundancies in the way the system currently operates, Bartlett said. EMSA and the Fire Department will be encouraged to work together to better the system, and EMSA has promised to consider some changes, he said.
"A change can be made in the dispatch arrangement that would make it more efficient and lower response times even further," Bartlett said. If EMSA isn't cooperative, he can "lower the hammer" on them, he said.
Michael Baker, emergency services director with the Fire Department, said in an interview that nearly everything the department proposed could still be implemented.
"We're optimistic that we can still make improvements," he said.