Colorado Springs News, Sports & Business

Consultant calls for compromise in ambulance service flap

GARRISON WELLS Updated: February 6, 2013 at 12:00 am

An expert in emergency services assumed the role of peacemaker Wednesday between the city of Colorado Springs and the agency governing countywide ambulance services.

“Be patient,” said Jon Altmann, owner of The Public Safety Research Group of Phoenix.

“I think compromise makes for a terrifically strong system,” he said.

Altmann was brought in by the Emergency Services Agency board as a consultant in case there is a split in ambulance services between El Paso County and the city.

Although a countywide contract is already in place, Colorado Springs has been privately negotiating its own deal.

The ESA contract with American Medical Response ends Dec. 31.

The ESA board has been forced to consider finding service for areas outside of the city.

Colorado Springs Fire Department Deputy Chief Tommy Smith, an ESA board member, said Wednesday the city’s plan will be submitted to the city council and Mayor Steve Bach and then presented to the ESA board. No date has been set, he said.

“Hyperbole,” he said, “is not doing anybody any good.”

Altmann told the board that the timing is good for change.

The Affordable Health Care Act already is forcing health care to evolve, there are more providers and plenty of models to choose from for emergency services.

What’s more, the federal government has a pool of $10 billion that could be used to finance innovative, pilot programs for ambulance service.

“This is an ideal opportunity for multiple providers in the county to come together for a more modern approach,” he said.

The best scenario, he added, would be a “get-along system,” where the board and the city patch up differences.

Still, if the city opts out, “it pretty well deconstructs the county system,” he said.

El Paso County Commissioner and ESA board member Sallie Clark, a critic over the way the city is handling talks, said the problem is a lack of communication.

“We have to do this as a region,” she said. “What happens with one impacts the other.”

If the board opts to or is forced to go its own way, it will take more than a year for a request for proposal to go out to prospective ambulance service providers, Altmann said. The board may have to extend the existing contract while it asks for new proposals.

Allowing more time would allow the federal government to work out the bugs in the Affordable Health Care Act and result in more bidders, Altmann said.

For instance, cost-cutting models are being developed to help keep patients out of the emergency room. The changes in the ER will drive changes in emergency services, Altmann said.

And along the way, everyone needs to keep in mind the needs of patients.

“Is this about cash or is this about the best care for the patient?” he asked. “The citizens deserve the best system.”

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