AMR gets two extra response minutes

Ambulance service seeking to cut costs with slower arrivals

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Continuing a discussion about ambulance response times that began Monday at a Vancouver City Council workshop, the Clark County commissioners on Tuesday endorsed adding two minutes to American Medical Response’s standard response time.

The two-minute extension only applies when first responders (fire department personnel) are on scene first.

Commissioners were acting in their capacity as the Emergency Medical Service District 2 board. They voted that the slower response time will be acceptable under AMR’s contract.

EMS District 2 includes most of the county, excluding Camas and Washougal and communities served by North Country EMS.

Clark Regional Emergency Services Agency EMS Manager Doug Smith-Lee said it’s very rare that a patient is treated and ready for transport within the additional two minutes.

The urgency of calls are determined by 911 dispatchers, who tell responders whether it’s a “hot” (lights and sirens) or cold call.

Smith-Lee told Commissioners Steve Stuart and Marc Boldt — Tom Mielke was absent — that the agreement will help reduce costs for AMR and that the savings will be shared between AMR and the first responders, including Clark County Fire Districts 3 and 6, Clark County Fire and Rescue and the Vancouver Fire Department.

Chris Horne, a county deputy prosecuting attorney, told commissioners that the agreement helps first responders and AMR become more efficient. For low-priority calls, the fire personnel will stop responding.

AMR, which has contracted to provide ambulance service for most of Clark County since 2004, warned two years ago that it needed to cut costs to avoid a 20 percent increase in what it charges patients for transport.

In 2010, commissioners awarded a two-year contract extension; the company has since earned an extension until 2014.

Smith-Lee said a request for proposals for the ambulance contract will go out in 2013.

In 2010, AMR estimated it would have to increase patient charges by 20 percent to account for revenue losses due to a growing population of uninsured and underinsured patients.

AMR doesn’t get any public money for its service, instead earning its profits from billings.

Under the contract approved in 2010, patients paid a 5 percent increase.

The average patient charge increased from $753 to $795, Smith-Lee said.

Allowing for inflation, the average patient charge has increased to $828.

Clark County Fire Districts 3 and 6 and Clark County Fire and Rescue have approved the two-minute extension.

On Monday, Vancouver City Councilors questioned what effect the “stop the clock” agreement will have on patients.

Smith-Lee said he expects to have another workshop with city councilors.

With the stamp of approval by the EMS District 2 board, the two-minute extension can go into effect, Smith-Lee said.

Stephanie Rice: http://www.facebook.com/reporterrice; http://twitter.com/col_clarkgov; stephanie.rice@columbian.com.