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

Rev. Al Sharpton
Rev. Al Sharpton (Photo/National Action Network)

Counterpoint: Opinion: San Diego (CA) Should Switch to Falck

Al Sharpton

The San Diego Union-Tribune

(MCT)

Sharpton is a reverend and civil rights leader and the founder and president of the National Action Network.

2020 will undoubtedly be remembered as one of the most consequential years of our time. Our country confronted a devastating pandemic, experienced a national reckoning with racism and endured one of the most bitter presidential elections in American history.

Now, with Inauguration Day behind us and a new administration in place, Americans are yearning for a year of healing and real progress around race and inequity. For many of us, the political shift in 2021 represents an opportunity to reassess what’s important to us as individuals and as a broader more unified community.

San Diego has a place in my heart and I have been supportive of the grassroots work being done by local leaders. I am confident that the new mayor and San Diego City Council are poised to begin this reassessment. New leadership gives the city an opportunity to reconsider how it conducts the people’s business, learning from past mistakes to better the lives of its citizens.

However, San Diego’s leaders appear to be careening toward a massive debacle with their controversial selection of a new 911 emergency ambulance provider, Falck. The Denmark-based company has been accused of inequitable service and unjust practices in the United States, and there is great concern that the move could undermine San Diego’s commitment to racial equality.

This becomes clear by examining Falck’s history. The company only recently began providing contracted 911 paramedic advanced life support services in California, and there have been plenty of problems. Since beginning service in Alameda County less than two years ago, the company has been fined hundreds of thousands of dollars for not meeting ambulance response time requirements. And sadly, its slowest response times have been in communities of color.

Given communities of color continue to be disproportionately impacted by the pandemic — and are therefore more likely to be in need of emergency care related to COVID-19 — this practice is alarming.

Of equal concern, Falck was also the emergency medical services (EMS) provider that supplied ketamine in Aurora, Colorado, which was used to sedate Elijah McClain when he was unjustly arrested and died in 2019. To say this is extremely worrisome is an understatement. McClain’s case is one of the countless, horrifying examples of brutality inflicted against the Black community in this country.

The city’s selection of Falck only becomes more troubling when looking into exactly how Falck was chosen over the city’s current provider, American Medical Response.

As expressed by many others, including the San Diego County Medical Society, the five-member selection committee lacked the comprehensive health care expertise we should expect from a panel tasked with evaluating a prospective provider’s experience and readiness to serve San Diego.

For example, there was no representation from homeless service providers, or from any of the local base hospitals that receive patients and work closely with emergency ambulance providers 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Instead, the committee was composed mostly of fire personnel — all White males, incidentally — who lack the diverse experience needed to thoroughly evaluate the bids on behalf of San Diegans.

Read another view on ambulances in San Diego:

Addressing racial justice and equity must be a priority in health care and public safety decisions, that should be non-negotiable. I find it unacceptable that a woman or a person of color was not included in this important decision — this is systemic racism.

Given this flawed selection process and Falck’s record, it is unclear how or why the public should have any confidence in the city’s choice. And in the midst of a pandemic, nothing is more critical than having reliable 911 emergency medical services, especially for communities of color, which have been hit harder than most.

Right now, all indications are that the city of San Diego is rushing into a bad, unequitable decision. However, it is not too late to change course, and prioritize racial justice and equality as we begin this new chapter.

By putting the city’s EMS contract back out to bid, Mayor Todd Gloria and the City Council can ensure that a proper and fair selection process is conducted by a committee that truly reflects the diversity of San Diego.

The people of this great city deserve nothing less.

This story originally appeared in San Diego Union-Tribune.

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