Westminster Poised to Approve Ambulance Contract

The Westminster City Council is set Wednesday to approve a controversial change in ownership of the ambulance company that assists paramedics responding to emergency calls.

Shoreline Ambulance Corp., a Huntington Beach-based firm that has had the city’s emergency ambulance contract since 2007, has been purchased by Shoreline Ambulance LLC, which is financially backed by a Los Angeles group.

The switch in ownership comes with controversy because Shoreline LLC was fined a record amount of $33,750 last May by Los Angeles for repeatedly operating ambulances improperly. Shoreline officials denied the allegations but paid the fine.

Then in December it emerged that Los Angeles County health department officials were investigating Shoreline LLC for a separate incident last June when ambulance personnel were alleged to have jeopardized a patient’s care by “negligent” actions during transport. Again Shoreline officials denied any impropriety.

Late last year, the Orange County Health Care Agency granted Shoreline LLC a permit to operate here, despite the company’s issues in Los Angeles.

In December, the Westminster City Council approved a temporary pact whereby Shoreline LLC could provide emergency service under the city’s $2.5-million Shoreline Corp. contract, which was approved last summer for three years.

Shoreline ambulances respond to 911 calls to transport victims to hospitals while being treated by Orange County Fire Authority paramedics, who provide that service for Westminster under a separate deal.

Tonight, the City Council will decide whether to approve a deal that would allow Shoreline LLC to continue as ambulance provider for the remainder of the contract or to start the process to select another ambulance company.

All this comes against the backdrop of the Los Angeles County health department's continuing probe of Shoreline LLC, about which LA County officials would not comment.

Los Angeles city officials said that if the county investigation confirms a rules violation, they will revoke Shoreline LLC’s city permit — a probationary permit that expires in November.

Meanwhile, Westminster officials noted in the staff report for tonight’s meeting that Shoreline LLC hasn’t been found to have engaged in violations in Orange County.

Regarding the violations in Los Angeles, the staff report states:

Please note the [Shoreline] LLC’s L.A. non-emergency ambulance performance issues do not reflect current or past emergency medical services performed by the LLC in Orange County. LLC’s non-emergency performance is not a definitive indicator of their future emergency medical performance.

City staff added that the same Shoreline manager and prior co-owner, Gio Chiarella, remains to run Shoreline LLC, as do most company personnel.

Based on the report, Westminster City Manager Eddie Manfro and Police Chief Kevin Baker recommended the City Council either approve Shoreline LLC to maintain continuity of service or seek a new ambulance provider to work with paramedics.

Fire authority officials, who last year recommended another ambulance provider, said they weren’t involved in the current issue before the City Council.

Rex Dalton is a San Diego-based journalist who has worked for the San Diego Union-Tribune and the journal Nature. You can reach him directly at rexdalton@aol.com.

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