The San Diego Union-Tribune
San Diego’s new ambulance provider has made so much progress meeting city expectations in recent days that the company has managed to nearly eliminate all concerns raised last month by city officials, a City Council committee was told Wednesday.
Falck USA has hired dozens of paramedics, reached a new labor contract with dispatchers, secured federal narcotics approval, ordered 99 percent of needed supplies and finalized a training module for employees. Those efforts will help smooth Falck’s scheduled Nov. 27 takeover of city ambulance operations from American Medical Response, Fire-Rescue Department officials said.
The takeover will come at the end of a six-month transition period the City Council approved last spring, when it chose Falck over AMR as San Diego’s ambulance provider based on promises of better service and response times.
San Diego officials outlined a series of concerns about the transition in an official “notice of performance issues” sent to Falck on Sept. 29. While concerns remain about a few details, Falck has addressed virtually everything on the list, fire officials said.
“They are on track to fill all of these requirements,” Deputy Fire Chief Jodie Pierce told the council’s Public Safety Committee Wednesday. “Falck has made great progress. I have no reason to believe that the few remaining (items) on this list will not be finalized and in place on Nov. 27.”
Troy Hagen, Falck’s chief commercial officer, said he shares the same level of confidence.
“We are very happy with where we’re at today,” he said. “We are ready to deliver on the commitments we made to the community and eager to provide excellent service to the city of San Diego.”
Hagen said he also believes the company will be able to immediately fulfill its promise to increase daily ambulance hours across the city from 840 under AMR to 1,008 under Falck.
Pierce stressed that the recent progress won’t make city officials any less vigilant between now and the Thanksgiving weekend takeover. “We are holding them to this contract and we are making sure that all of these expectations are fulfilled and that they are fulfilled in a timely manner,” she said.
Falck recently reached agreement with Teamsters International on a one-year extension to a labor deal with city ambulance dispatchers that had expired Sept. 30, Hagen said.
The company is also in negotiations with the San Diego Association of Prehospital Professionals labor union on a similar deal that would cover paramedics and emergency medical technicians, Hagen said. The current deal with that union expires Dec. 31.
Falck got its narcotics approval Oct. 15 from the federal Drug Enforcement Agency, allowing the company to order key medications that are scheduled to arrive in the next few weeks.
Some logistical concerns raised by the city are still being negotiated, such as the disposal of biohazard waste and how to handle ambulance pickups involving obese people.
Falck has filled 28 of the 33 open paramedic slots and hired more than 100 EMTs, which fills all the EMT vacancies the company had faced and leaves a surplus. Hagen said Wednesday that paramedic recruiting is still under way.
On ambulances, the company is still promising that all 66 of its ambulances will be brand new. Hagen said Falck plans to start with 33 new ambulances and then climb up to 66 new ambulances by next spring.
Company officials have blamed a pandemic-related microchip shortage for the delay. Seventeen of the new ambulances arrived Monday, with 16 more expected in coming weeks and the final 33 expected next spring.
Hagen said the new ambulances would be dispersed equally across the city when Falck takes over.
The Public Safety Committee is scheduled to get a final update on the transition Nov. 10.
Falck is a Danish company that handles ambulance service in many cities around the world. Internationally, Falck provides service in Denmark, Sweden, Spain, Germany, Colombia and Australia.
Domestically, the company provides service in Oregon, Colorado, Michigan, Georgia, Mississippi, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maine and California — including Orange, Los Angeles and Alameda counties.
This story originally appeared in San Diego Union-Tribune.