Emergency-ambulance services in Santa Monica are about to change hands, thanks to a decision reached by the at Tuesday night's meeting. The council—absent three of its members—unanimously authorized a three-year contract for Ameri-Care Ambulance.
Since 2004, Gerber Ambulance Service has provided the with contracted ambulance and billing services for emergencies handled by the department's paramedics unit, which includes six trucks and four ambulances.
But following a bidding process that involved eight ambulance providers in Los Angeles County, the Carson, Calif.-based Ameri-Care Ambulance won the new contract, which will start in August.
Six staff members from the fire and city-finance departments evaluated five proposals that pertained to ambulance services and three that related to billing. Only Ameri-Care and one other company in the running offered to provide billing services at no cost, according to SMFD Captain and Paramedic Coordinator Mark Bridges' staff report. The company was also "the only one committed to the purchase of property in Santa Monica on which to locate an ambulance station," the report said.
That statement in the report drew concern from two community members who addressed the council. Ellen Hannon, a member of the , wondered if Ameri-Care's intention to purchase property in Santa Monica gave it preferential treatment in the bidding process.
Long-time community activist Jerry Rubin raised similar concerns, saying, "I don't know why that was in the staff report, about them buying property. … Why was that a criteria one way or the other for them changing the ambulance service?"
City Manager Rod Gould responded by saying, "It wasn't required in the [Request for Proposal] that they buy property. That was just in Ameri-Care's business plan."
SMFD Chief Scott Ferguson also addressed the council, saying three criteria were considered in choosing the company for the contract: that the company be licensed and approved to operate in Los Angeles County; that it have at least three years' experience in providing 911 services; and that it have two consecutive years' experience providing primary provider transport in Los Angeles County.
He did, however, say that Ameri-Care's business model was considered in the evaluation process.
"We narrowed it down to the three [companies] that matched the RFP criteria most closely, [then conducted] site visits [and] considered [their] business model," he said. "We felt that they were the best agency to serve the community of Santa Monica."
Ferguson—who took part in the site visits and staff interviews—also said that Ameri-Care's "level of professionalism" and "attention to detail" were "exceptional," causing that company to stand out among its competitors.
Prior to Ferguson speaking, Gerber Ambulance Service President Robert Gerber—who started the Torrance-based company in 1988—argued that there were "6 million reasons why we feel we should continue with Santa Monica."
He pointed to the company's "compassionate" billing program, through which it has relieved patients of more than $100,000 in debt. He also said the company has handled 67,000 calls and transported 44,000 patients with "no failure" and without having to rely upon a backup provider.
"We appreciate the seven years of experience that Gerber has given us," Ferguson said.
Jim McNeil, owner of Schaefer Ambulance Service—which has been located at 318 SM Blvd. since 1952 and has provided service to the city for the past 60 years—also raised concerns about the awarding of the contract. He said his company wasn't afforded a site visit during the bidding process, and pointed out that Schaefer Ambulance Service is the only company of its kind with a female ownership of more than 50 percent.
Following the comments made to the council, Mayor approved a motion to authorize the contract. Mayor Pro Tempore seconded the motion, and Councilman and Councilwoman Pam O'Connor also voted yes.
Instead of receiving full, direct payments from the city of Santa Monica, Ameri-Care Ambulance will be paid based on a share of the fees collected by the patients who are transported. Bridges tells Santa Monica Patch that the SMFD receives revenue from the patients, billed by the ambulance company.
"They collect the payment, keep their share for transporting and sent us our share for procedures, advanced life support measures taken, etc.," he said. "That money goes into the city’s general funds, which helps fund our paramedics, equipment, etc.
The SMFD projects revenue for services to be $1,259,911 for the 2011-'12 fiscal year, and $1,291,409 for the subsequent fiscal year, according to Bridges.
More on Tuesday night's city council meeting:
Correction: The revenue for services is not part of the SMFD budget.