Opinion: San Diego (CA) Should Switch to Falck

Falck San Diego
Photo Courtesy Falck San Diego

Counterpoint: Rev. Al Sharpton: San Diego (CA) Should Not Switch to Falck

Nancy Maldonado , Francine Maxwell, Jason Paguio

The San Diego Union-Tribune

(MCT)

Maldonado is the CEO of the Chicano Federation and lives in Tierrasanta. Maxwell is the president of the NAACP San Diego branch and lives in Encanto. Paguio is the CEO of the Asian Business Association of San Diego and lives in Coronado.

The contract to provide emergency ambulance care for the city of San Diego will soon be reviewed by the San Diego City Council. After the initial request for proposal in 2019 was scrapped when the incumbent provider filed an appeal against the winning contractor in January 2020, the city is on track to confirm a five-year contract that is meant to provide a direct and life-saving service to our communities.

Before 2019, the contract had not been released for a competitive bid for 22 years. As leaders of community organizations serving diverse constituencies, particularly in our most under-resourced communities, we call for a speedy and responsible resolution to the issue. Dating back to 2011, the city has sought to establish a traditional outsourcing contract with then-provider Rural/Metro. The outgoing provider acquired Rural/Metro in 2015 and assumed the remainder of the contract. The history of the contract, however, has been dotted with complaints, response time compliance fines and demands from the city for improved service levels. We have an opportunity to turn this around and receive enhanced levels of service with a new contract. More importantly, our community will have resolution and certainty.

The search itself for a new provider has been characterized by delays, which led to multiple contract extensions for the current provider. In 2017, the City Council approved contract changes to the emergency ambulance services contract due to perceived staffing and recruitment challenges and an increase in non-life-threatening 911 calls. These contract changes included reducing the number of emergency zones the city is divided into along with a 24 percent increase in the rates patients are billed after being transported by ambulance.

As residents, we understand that rate increases are necessary for long-term sustainability (although we believe that small and regular rate increases are more reasonable and palatable, especially for those experiencing hardship). In this case, however, the pattern of contract extensions and unsustainable business practices lead us to question the attention put on our ambulance provider and if the best interest of our communities is fully being considered.

The city must be held accountable to engage a new contractor that will service all communities equitably when lives are on the line. We cannot afford any additional delays to the ambulance contract, which is already long overdue. Equally important, residents must be confident that all areas of the city will be covered fairly.

With the city completing negotations with Falck, one of the world’s largest ambulance providers, San Diego now has an opportunity to receive first-class emergency medical care from an expert provider that has been proven in various large systems in California, throughout the U.S. and across the globe. Though the company is a newcomer to San Diego, Falck has extensive experience in Southern California and the Bay Area. Falck brings both the expertise and resources to meet San Diego’s emergency medical needs.

Read another view on ambulances in San Diego:

Specific to those needs, Falck brings a track record of upholding the integrity of patient care while meeting and going above required standards. The company has taken neglected and understaffed emergency response systems and turned them around to ensure that communities are getting reliable and attentive medical care. We trust that Falck can apply its resources and dedication to our residents as the company works with the city of San Diego to ensure a smooth changeover of providers.

Without even securing the contract, Falck officials have integrated themselves into San Diego by showcasing their goodwill as a community partner. They’ve contributed to the health and safety of San Diegans before and during the ongoing pandemic by partnering and providing financial support to community organizations like ours.

Falck donated ambulances and educational supplies to two local colleges’ emergency medical technician and paramedic programs, and supports multiple nonprofits focused on alleviating food insecurity in the region. It has also financed research projects targeting the coronavirus outbreak and contact tracing.

Falck’s diverse investments demonstrate an opportunity for our traditionally under-invested communities to be recognized by our emergency medical provider. The City Council’s approval of a contract with Falck will ensure that the next ambulance provider prioritizes the residents of San Diego over profits.

This story originally appeared in San Diego Union-Tribune.

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