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City decision leaves ambulance employees wondering about jobs

April 11, 2013
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American Medical Response isn’t just the dominant local ambulance service provider, it’s a behemoth company that reaches into 40 states, has 16,458 employees nationwide and in 2012 transported more than 3 million patients across the U.S.

Based in Greenwood Village, it makes sense that AMR would be the kingpin in El Paso County’s ambulance world.

In Colorado, it has operations in Cañon City, Denver, Boulder, El Paso County, Longmont, Golden and Pueblo.

AMR began serving Colorado Springs in 1979, and since 1999 has been the county’s 911 ambulance transport provider.

In El Paso County, according to its recently released community report, AMR has 250 local caregivers and staff.

Every one of them faces unemployment.

They are caught in the midst of a shift in ambulance service in the county, sparked by a decision by the city of Colorado Springs to split from the countywide agency that governs service and seek its contract to start on April 1, 2014 — after AMR’s contract expires.

That leaves the Emergency Services Agency, which governs ambulance service in the county, in the position of having to seek ambulance service without the area’s largest population and profit center.

AMR plans to bid for both contracts, said Ted Sayer, AMR general manager. But there are no guarantees it will win.

“I think that honestly, the crews are worried,” said Casey Shifflet, veteran AMR paramedic and trainer. “They don’t know if they are going to have jobs when this is all said and done.”

While some employees could seek work outside the area if AMR loses its bid, Shifflet said it would be a tough decision.

“The whole thing is in the air,” he said. “Why would we want to transfer? We work in Colorado Springs because we like it here. Some of us have homes, we are well-established, our kids go to local schools. There are 250 employees who just don’t know what’s going on one day to the next.”

In a statement released last month, Colorado Springs Fire Chief Rich Brown said the city wanted to get a better deal for taxpayers by seeking its own ambulance service bids.

“Competitive procurement is the holy grail of government procurement because it results in the best bang for the buck for taxpayers,” Brown said.

As far as Sayer can tell, Colorado Springs isn’t looking to seek bids because of AMR’s performance.

Indeed, in its annual report, the firm hit every target for on-time performance.

“We’re extremely proud of our on-time performance,” Sayer said. “We have never failed to meet our contractual performance goals and consistently outperform the standards.”

AMR Colorado Springs responded to almost 70,000 advanced life support calls, transporting 40,000 patients to local hospitals, according to the report.

It also completed 15,000 routine calls, such as para-transit and transfers, the report said.

AMR’s Colorado Springs-based communication center answered 145,365 calls for the Springs, Pueblo, Cañon City and Denver.

From El Paso County Commissioner Sallie Clark’s perspective as ESA board member, AMR has “done an excellent job.”

“We review their performance at our board meetings and essentially put in penalties if they don’t meet the response time requirements,” she said. “They are meeting the expectations.”

Clark added that AMR has worked well with fire districts.

“They also provide and don’t charge for a special vehicle for detox,” she said. “Instead of taking an ambulance out of service, they use that and they do not get reimbursed. The whole community benefits.”

Top 10 responses by AMR in 2012

•Traffic accident: 13 percent

•Difficulty breathing: 10 percent

•Fall: 9 percent

•Chest pain: 9 percent

•Unconscious: 7 percent

•Overdose: 7 percent

•Unknown problem: 6 percent

•Assault: 5 percent

•Psychiatric: 4 percent

•Seizure: 4 percent

Source: AMR Colorado annual report

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