California Panel Refuses EMS Privatization

Don’t expect the city’s fire department to stop responding to medical emergencies. A 10-member committee that includes the five-person Redding City Council reached a consensus Monday that it makes no sense, nor would it save any money, if the Redding Fire Department got out of the business of emergency medical response.

“I have no interest in looking at EMS further,” said Ken Murray, a past city councilman who serves on the Privatization Evaluation Committee, following a two-hour evaluation of the emergency medical services issue. “There’s nothing to be privatized here.” “We’re wasting a lot of time,” said former City Councilman Dave McGeorge, another member of the committee.

But the fire department’s overtime costs is another issue and that will be looked at closely during subsequent meetings, committee members agreed. The committee, with Mayor Rick Bosetti absent, generally agreed Monday night that privatizing emergency medical response services would save the city little – if any – money and possibly put the community at risk. City Councilman Dick Dickerson, for example, said that the existing service is an excellent one and that the city should look “somewhere else” to try to save money. “It’s critical to the protection of the citizens of Redding,” he said.

Redding fire Chief Kevin Kreitman, who outlined a number of drawbacks to fully privatizing emergency medical response services, said the city is essentially working in a public-private partnership with local ambulance service providers already. Still, responding to emergency medical calls is no profit-maker, he said.

It’s estimated that 85 percent of the fire department’s calls are medical in nature. But, some committee members noted, the department is often forced to respond to emergency calls that are not true medical emergencies. Kreitman agreed that while the 911 system can certainly be abused, he noted that emergency medical dispatch (EMD) protocols are being established. “Once this is in place, we should see a significant reduction in the number of initial responses by fire department personnel,” he wrote in a report. “With the implementation of EMD protocols, the city will likely see a 30 percent or more reduction in its initial responses for medical calls.”

Kreitman and City Manager Kurt Starman said that Shasta Regional Medical Center’s parent company, Prime Healthcare Services, donated $117,000 to the SHASCOM dispatching service to establish the EMD system, which could be in place by April. The City Council agreed this past summer to create the Privatization Evaluation Committee (PEC) so it could evaluate privatizing city services to try to save money and to provide better value to the public. A different group – the council-appointed Community Services Advisory Commission – is already studying the potential to privatize the Redding Convention Center and/or the Convention and Visitors Bureau.

The PEC, which hopes to finish its work by Jan. 31, has been working to survey a wide range of city services to identify those most suitable for privatization. It would then analyze those services and develop a list of pros and cons to privatizing each. Once its work is done, the council then will consider implementing the recommendations.

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