State: Health Agency Must Select 911 Ambulance Providers

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The state has ordered the Orange County Health Care Agency to take over the selection process for 911 ambulance services for much of the region, officials announced today.

The order, from the state Emergency Medical Services Authority, came after a meeting yesterday near Sacramento and is necessary for the county’s compliance with legal requirements, said county spokeswoman Jean Pasco.

The Orange County Fire Authority, an independent agency governed by cities and two county supervisors, was preparing to launch the selection process in 19 municipalities for ambulances that transport patients to hospitals for Fire Authority paramedics called via 911.

But state officials apparently felt that the Health Care Agency had delegated too much control to the Fire Authority, thereby coming into conflict with a 2010 court decision requiring counties to maintain tight oversight of such bidding.

“The county will work with the Fire Authority to take over the request for proposals process based on the written direction we will be receiving from the state,” said Pasco.

Under state requirements, the Health Care Agency can conduct the ambulance selection process, hire consultants to assist, but can’t transfer too much responsibility to another agency without violating statewide legal tenets.

Health Care Agency officials weren’t available today, but they have said they would need to hire consultants and possibly staff if the state required them to conduct the selection process.

Time is of the essence because the current ambulance contracts for the 19 cities run out on Sept. 1. Fire Authority officials have said it takes at least six months to conduct the selection process, which they were to have launched Jan. 23 but delayed to Feb. 27 due to the pending state review.

How that is handled “will be a county Board of Supervisors call,” said Pasco. The board likely will be taking the issue up at a meeting in the near future.

With the Health Care Agency assuming the lead role, it remains to be seen what the Fire Authority will be doing regarding the selection process.

Earlier this month, Jim Ruane, the Fire Authority’s finance manager, said his organization “stands ready to help” if the state did switch responsibility.

A consultant experienced in such issues already was working with the Fire Authority, and she ultimately could move to assist the county to reduce the likelihood of delays.

“I’m confident that OCFA will remain committed to supporting member agencies and the HCA to ensure the highest level of service to our communities,” said Jill R. Ingram, Seal Beach city manager who chairs a Fire Authority advisory panel of municipal representatives.

“Of significance to the citizens of Orange County,” Ingram added, is “the qualifications and service requirements that ambulance providers must adhere to in Orange County will not change.”

But under the new system, the state is requiring cities that select ambulance firms for their individual jurisdictions to pick the company ranked highest in the process. Some cities have not done so in the past.

State officials weren’t available for comment Friday.

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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