Ambulance Firm Probed in LA but Fast Tracked in OC


An ambulance owned by Shoreline Ambulance Co.

Officials in Orange County are rapidly moving to license Shoreline Ambulance Co. to provide emergency transportation in Westminster, while in Los Angeles officials are seeking to revoke the firm’s permits for allegedly threatening patient safety.

The firm, which is based in Huntington Beach, faces a revocation hearing before the Los Angeles Board of Transportation Dec. 13 after being hit in May with a record $33,750 fine for repeatedly operating ambulances improperly in LA.

And Dec. 12 the Westminster City Council, which also will be swearing in a new mayor and at least two council members, is set to vote on approving the private service as the municipality’s exclusive ambulance provider for 911 calls effective Jan. 1.

Shoreline Ambulance Co. LLC is taking over the operations of Shoreline Ambulance Corp., which has operated ambulances for Westminster for five years.

Los Angeles city officials say they view the companies as already operating as one, a charge the companies have denied.

On Nov. 27, the Orange County Health Care Agency’s emergency medical services division issued a letter stating that Shoreline LLC met county requirements to operate ambulances. Saying it had concluded its review of Shoreline LLC, an HCA spokeswoman said the agency plans to issue the firm a license effective Jan. 1.

Both the HCA and Westminster city staff have known of the apparent new Los Angeles issues and investigations since at least Nov. 21, records and interviews show.

Officials at the Orange County Fire Authority, which provides paramedics for Westminster, say they have repeatedly expressed concerns about the issues in Los Angeles to both the HCA and Westminster.

“We have made them aware aggressively,” said Scott Brown, the OCFA battalion chief who oversees the agency’s paramedic operations for the 23 cities it serves. In Westminster, OCFA paramedics care for 911 patients taken by private ambulance, like Shoreline’s, to a hospital.

Brown said the OCFA is so concerned about the availability of proper ambulance service in Westminster that the agency has developed a contingency plan to use other providers if more issues with Shoreline LLC arise.

Earlier this year, the Shoreline Corp. won a contested bid for a new $2.5-million contract for three years and in subsequent months moved  to consummate the merger into Shoreline LLC.

But records now indicate that as the Westminster City Council was approving Shoreline Corp.’s new contract last summer, Shoreline LLC also was under investigation by both the city and county of Los Angeles for the alleged new offense on June 12.

A Los Angeles city report for the revocation hearing says Los Angeles County officials learned that a Shoreline LLC ambulance was observed that day traveling fast with lights and sirens in Downey with both emergency medical technicians in the front seats.

Subsequent investigation indicated that the patient’s condition had deteriorated, an attendant wasn’t at the unstable patient’s side, and the ambulance didn’t contact a hospital by radio for instructions on seeking care at an appropriate facility, the report says.

Shoreline LLC’s employees “acted in a negligent manner that jeopardized the health and well-being of the patient being transported,” says the report by Jaime de la Vega, general manager of Los Angeles city’s transportation department.

When asked about the issues, Samuel Hauptman, chairman of Shoreline LLC, said he only wanted to impart “one big, resounding 'no comment.' ”

In documents attached to the agenda for the Westminster City Council meeting, there is no mention of any of Shoreline LLC’s issues in Los Angeles.

The report to the council recommends granting a temporary agreement to allow Shoreline LLC to take over Shoreline Corp. to provide ambulances effective Jan. 1.

City staff estimated a 60-day period is necessary to examine Shoreline LLC’s qualifications, finances and experience to ensure it meets requirements. The final approval then will be considered.

But the city report raises the possibility that an alternative ambulance service still may have to be sought if Shoreline LLC doesn’t provide requested documentation or can’t meet the requirements. The HCA says Shoreline Corp.'s ambulance license will expire at midnight Dec. 31, with Shoreline LLC’s starting at 12:01 a.m. Jan. 1.

Lt. Derek Marsh, the Westminster police manager who oversees ambulance service, declined comment, referring calls to an attorney for the city. The attorney didn’t respond to an interview request.

On May 10, just a month before the Downey incident occurred, Shoreline LLC’s permit to operate in Los Angeles County had been suspended, with firm managers agreeing not to operate any ambulance there through October. At least a dozen times from February through March, Los Angeles city officials had found Shoreline LLC operating illegally in the city. Shoreline officials insisted they were functioning properly.

On Nov. 2, Los Angeles lifted its suspension of Shoreline LLC, and municipal officials permitted the company to operate a single ambulance on probationary terms.

Los Angeles regulators also were collaborating with Los Angeles County Health Department officials on the probe that led to this week’s revocation hearing.

Late last month, Orange County officials were told that Los Angeles County officials were considering fining Shoreline LLC at least $5,000 for problematic ambulance operations there, records state. Los Angeles County officials declined comment. Shoreline LLC’s Hauptman said he had no comment, as those county issues were still under review.

Los Angeles officials are asking that its Board of Transportation find that the Downey incident was a violation, revoke Shoreline LLC’s permit and deny the firm and its principals the ability to reapply for two years.

De la Vega wrote that the sanction is needed “due to the history of the company and their failure to effect remedies, even when given ample opportunity to do so.”

Under the Westminster contract, Shoreline LLC would dedicate three ambulances to respond for OCFA paramedics.

In the last year, OCFA has criticized the past performance of Shoreline Corp., noting the firm didn’t have the required radios. Shoreline Corp. says that was remedied.

After an independent review, OCFA and Westminster’s administrators recommended in February that Shoreline Corp. be dropped and the bid awarded to Care Ambulance Service of Fullerton, the top bidder for the new contract.

But Westminster’s City Council has repeatedly rejected such advice.

Shoreline LLC’s move into Orange County is part of a recent trend in which ambulance operators from Los Angeles have been expanding here.

This coincides with Los Angeles County officials implementing tough new ambulance regulations to deal with questionable providers with problematic backgrounds.

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