Oct. 20 2015 11:56 AM

Under tightening contract, city of San Diego fines ambulance provider $230,000


For the first time in 18 years, the city’s 911 emergency ambulance provider Rural/Metro has failed to meet compliance standards. Following the elimination of a long-standing contract loophole that allowed ambulances to arrive late to the city’s most serious emergency calls without penalty, the ambulance provider has violated response-time standards, triggering significant fines.

Declining to comment on the impact of eliminating the contract loophole, Michael Simonsen, Rural/Metro’s regional market development director, blamed the company’s noncompliance on an uptick in calls and staffing issues.

“[W]e, along with other EMS providers in the county, have faced a decline in readily available paramedics to hire and put through the city’s field training process,” Simonsen said in an email. “Although, we continue to hire as many available paramedics as possible, it still requires us to put them through a 45 to 60 day process to be cleared to work in the system.”

This year, the ambulance provider experienced a call volume increase of about 7 percent, compared to average annual increase of roughly 2 percent, Simonsen said.

Mayor Kevin Faulconer has yet to respond to CityBeat’s request for comment.

The city requires Rural/Metro to arrive at life threatening 911 emergency calls within 12 minutes 90 percent of the time. Compliance has been calculated in four separate zones, as well as citywide.

For the quarter between July and September, the ambulance company fell below the 90 percent compliance standard in all four zones and citywide, resulting in a total $230,000 fine.

Recently, San Diego Fire Department officials expressed concern the ambulance company hadn’t provided proper service to residents facing life-threatening emergencies. Under the city’s 911 contract, the fire department arrives on scene to stabilize patients before an ambulance arrives.

Simonsen has routinely denied that the former longstanding contract loophole, known as system busy, affected the company’s level of performance. The now-eliminated stipulation exempted from response-time standards any ambulance dispatched after 12 were already on the road. During peak hours, the company operates more than 40 ambulances at once, according to pervious statements from Simonsen.

After CityBeat exposed the loophole in the city’s ambulance contract more than two years ago, officials nixed contract provision last summer, significantly tightening response-time requirements. However, it’s unclear how long Rural/Metro has been out of compliance. Between January and June, city officials said a technical glitch resulted in the loss of six months of compliance data.

Over the next three months, Rural/Metro will face an even bigger challenge. Under a five-year contract extension approved in June, the city tightened its rules even further. Starting in October, the ambulance provider will be required to meet response-time standards for eight zones instead of four, each of which carry up to a $50,000 fine for noncompliance.

As part of the contract extension this summer, Rural/Metro pledged to add 300 ambulance unit hours a week and hire more personnel to meet demand.

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