Councilors curious about new ambulance pact

With AMR seeking longer response time, Vancouver pair mulls breakaway

By Andrea Damewood, Columbian staff writer

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Two Vancouver city councilors said Wednesday that they’d like to hear more about leaving Emergency Medical District 2, which encapsulates most of Clark County.

The request comes on the heels of talks about a “stop the clock” agreement with American Medical Response, the private company that provides ambulance service to the EMS district.

The company says it is struggling to make a profit, and needs two more minutes to arrive at emergencies — but only when first responders (fire department personnel) are on scene first.

The EMS District 2 board, made up of the three Clark County commissioners, approved the agreement on Tuesday, but each fire department’s policymakers also have to agree to the move.

All others besides Vancouver — including Clark County Fire Districts 3, 5 and 6 and Clark County Fire & Rescue — have given the go-ahead to the extension.

Under its contract with EMS District 2, AMR has to arrive to emergency calls in the urban area within 7 minutes and 59 seconds 90 percent of the time, or face fines. Stopping the clock, if fire personnel are already there, gives them 9 minutes and 59 seconds.

Life and death issue?

Some Vancouver councilors on Monday said they’re worried that could be the difference between life and death.

On Wednesday, Councilor Jeanne Harris sent an email asking that fellow city councilors join her in a push to get the topic on a future agenda.

“I want to see what it would look like if we had our own contract with AMR,” said Harris, one of the most vocal skeptics of the stop the clock plan. “I want to see if that’s possible, if that makes sense. It makes me a little bit nervous here when the county is acting on our behalf.”

One councilor, Larry Smith, wrote back to say he’s interested as well. He said he’s not entirely against saying yes to the time extension, but doesn’t see the harm in exploring other options.

“I don’t know about the rest of the council members, if they just want to push ahead on it and be

done with it,” Smith said Wednesday. “I just want to hear the advantages and disadvantages if we went our separate ways.”

Vancouver Fire Chief Joe Molina said that EMS District 2 is just starting what could potentially be a massive overhaul of the way emergency ambulance services are provided in the county.

AMR’s contract expires in 2014, and the extension is necessary to keep the private company from walking away before the district is ready, he said.

“If we don’t help them, they’ll leave,” Molina said. “We need time to redesign. (If not), we’re going to be put in the position of building it on the fly.”

$250,000 savings

EMS District 2 does not pay AMR for its contract. However, the extension will save the company $250,000, half of which it will funnel back to the various local fire districts.

Harris said there’s a contract in place that says AMR should be there in less than 8 minutes. She said she’d like to see it stay that way.

“I feel like, wait a second, they’re going to save $250,000 but they can’t supply the service we’re contracting with them to do?” she asked.

She also said she was worried about a situation where a Vancouver Fire unit not staffed with a paramedic arrived on scene first, giving AMR time, but was then unable to provide advanced life support.

“No, I can’t go there,” Harris said. “I just don’t feel like it’s ready.”

Molina said a preliminary analysis of calls shows that a paramedic is not on board each of the city’s nine trucks less than 3 percent of the time.

Andrea Damewood: 360-735-4542 or andrea.damewood@columbian.com or www.facebook.com/reporterdamewood or www.twitter.com/col_cityhall.