By Pam Zubeck
Starting in January, Colorado Springs residents could see a new fleet of ambulances racing around the city — a departure from the 40-year tradition of service by American Medical Response.
Despite that longevity, AMR lost out in a competitive process to Falck Ambulance, a Danish company, as the city’s emergency ambulance provider in a process that drew proposals from four companies and, for the first time, the Colorado Springs Fire Department.
It’s the second time in as many years the city chose a provider other than AMR of Greenwood Village. In 2018, Priority Ambulance of Knoxville, Tenn., was picked, but AMR protested, leading to a new round of proposals being sought.
Now, Scott Lenn, AMR’s vice president of operations, Rocky Mountain Plains, said via an email to the Journal’s sister publication, the Colorado Springs Independent, that the company is “reserving our right for potential protest.”
So it’s unclear if a change truly is in the offing.
Still, Falck Rocky Mountain CEO David Patterson said in the email that the company hopes to assume duties as ambulance provider in January as planned.
“We look forward to partnering with the community on the delivery of ambulance service in the near future,” he said.
AMR became the city’s first contracted emergency ambulance provider in 2014 after then-Mayor Steve Bach pulled the city out of the regional Emergency Services Agency, served by AMR, and imposed an unprecedented $1.17-million annual fee on AMR. The fee is designed to recover the cost of firefighters’ simultaneous responses with ambulance crews to top priority medical calls and associated expenses.
When that five-year deal drew to a close, Mayor John Suthers rebid the contract, seeking a higher fee of $1.4 million. The city chose Priority for further negotiations, but AMR protested, alleging a city employee who helped evaluate proposals formerly worked for AMR and “left on bad terms” and also had worked for a company later purchased by Priority, AMR told the Independent at the time.
The city decided to scrap that process and start anew, hiring AMR short-term pending the new selection process.
The latest request for proposals seeks “minimally” $1.17 million a year from the contractor as payment for services, equipment, 911 dispatching, medical direction and oversight, and contract administration.
The RFP notes that an “additional reimbursement amount … will be a factor in the City’s award decision” and that “the Offeror [bidder] is encouraged to propose a reimbursement of $1,400,000 to capture the actual costs to the City.”
Patterson wouldn’t say how much Falck offered, citing the ongoing negotiations. He also declined to be specific on aspects of Falck’s plans, including the rate schedule Falck plans to impose. But he said charges for Medicare and Medicaid patients are dictated by the government, so those will not change unless those programs alter reimbursement amounts.
He also declined to identify the number of ambulances that will be deployed, saying he doesn’t know the number being used by AMR today.
“Ultimately, my hope is to bring enhancements to the system,” he said.
Patterson was clear, however, on how Falck, should it win the city contract, plans to staff the operation — with AMR employees.
“Our approach to treatment of the incumbent work force is to bring over on a fast track basis all those qualified in the system,” Patterson said. “Ultimately, these folks have served the city, and we’d like to maintain their existing role with the community and perhaps hire some additional folks as well.”
It’s common practice in situations where one ambulance company takes over a contract for another to bring on board its work force.
Mayor’s spokesperson Jamie Fabos said in a statement the proposals were judged on the “best value” for the city, including project approach and compliance with the city’s scope of service requirements; organizational background; qualifications, experience and references; proposal presentation, and exceptions and insurance.
Fabos also said in her statement that recognizing the need for rapid responses and “reviewing performance metrics over the past five years,” the city sought “an improved response model for the EMS contract.”
AMR has complied with contract response-time requirements when paired with firefighters’ responses, meaning with CSFD involved, help arrived within 8 minutes roughly 95 percent of the time over the last four years, the Independent reported in March.
But when AMR’s response is viewed in isolation, its response record to emergency calls drops to within 8 minutes 66 percent to 73 percent of the time, records show.
AMR’s Lenn told the Indy at that time that the current setup in Colorado Springs “is working very well” and “rivals the best response times in the nation.”
The CSFD’s elimination from contention, which the Indy reported Aug. 16, stemmed from concerns over limitations imposed by the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights and enterprise rules.
“If these things were already rules in play from before this process was undertaken … why would they allow the time, energy and resources to move forward [with a CSFD proposal] when they knew they would shut it down?” asks Dave Noblitt, spokesperson for the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 5.
In response, Fabos said the city felt a “responsibility” to consider all options and “fully investigate” a way to make such an insourced model work.
Falck was established in Denmark in 1906 and now serves 30 countries with 30,000 employees, 4,200 of whom work in the United States. It serves in the Pacific Northwest, California, Michigan, Maryland, Florida, Georgia, Alabama and in Aurora, Colorado, where it’s provided emergency ambulance service for four years. Falck also provides non-emergent transports in the Denver metro area and Boulder, as well as El Paso County.