Orange County officials are beginning to study whether basic 911 medical emergencies should be handed over to ambulance companies instead of firefighters.
County Health Care Agency officials came before the Board of Supervisors Tuesday seeking a permanent hike in ambulance rates. What they got was Supervisor John Moorlach calling for a much more comprehensive look at how emergency medical response is handled for the more than 160,000 911 calls in Orange County each year.
Moorlach wants to hear about a system that doesn't include fire departments.
"How do I find someone with guts to look at that?" Moorlach asked Health Care Agency Director David L. Riley during the supervisors' weekly public meeting.
Moorlach questioned whether a proposed hike of more than 10 percent in ambulance rates was the result of unnecessary fire department charges. He further questioned whether a system reliant on private ambulances would net a better deal for taxpayers.
"We're sending out a truck and an ambulance," Moorlach asked. "Why should the fire department go? I'm not grasping that."
"There's a lot of questions about who should do the transports," Chairman Bill Campbell said in response to Moorlach's concerns.
Campbell said fire departments enter the transport business because they have firefighters in the firehouses who are available to respond to emergencies. He told Moorlach that by pushing for a private system, "what you're advocating is to have firefighters sitting in the firehouse."
Moorlach jumped on the idea of questioning the entire premise behind the current 911 medical response system. "That's a great point," he said. "The flip point is are we overstaffed in fire houses because they're doing medical calls?"
Moorlach also questioned whether it's good policy to have local fire departments conduct requests for proposals for private ambulance service. His questions apparently moved his colleagues, because when Campbell moved to approve the rate increase, he was alone.
Moorlach and Supervisor Janet Nguyen voted against the increase while Supervisor Pat Bates abstained. That prompted Campbell to opt for a delay.
The issue is likely to be discussed duringt next week's meeting of the board of directors for the Orange County Fire Authority, said Bates, who is the supervisors' representative on the board.
And after Moorlach's questions, county officials will now bring the rate hike back for discussion on Nov. 22 along with an analysis of shifting medical response entirely to private ambulances.
"Bring it back and we'll see what happens," said Campbell.
— NORBERTO SANTANA JR.