December 17, 2013 Updated: December 18, 2013 at 9:13 pm
The City of Colorado Springs on Tuesday signed a contract with American Medical Response, breaking away from El Paso County on ambulance services in a move Colorado Springs officials say will save the city money and improve response times in many neighborhoods.
The contract goes into effect April 1.
"As a result of this contract we believe the level of service will be improved," said Colorado Springs Fire Chief Christopher Riley, explaining that the contract aims for 8-minute response times to areas formerly in the 12-minute response zones. Those neighborhoods include Briargate, Stetson Hills, Mountain Shadows, Broadmoor Bluffs, Rockrimmon and a section of Peregrine.
Part of the new deal also stipulates that AMR will reimburse the city for $1.17 million annually for emergency medical services historically provided by the Colorado Springs Fire Department; patient ambulance charges also are to be maintained at the existing level that has been in effect since 2012, with only minor inflation adjustments.
The contract comes after months of wrangling over ambulance services. In July, Colorado Springs officially ended its agreement with the Emergency Services Authority, which oversees the county's ambulance services. At the time, Colorado Springs Mayor Steve Bach said the city should be reimbursed for doing AMR's work, which he estimated was costing the city around $3 million a year.
While the contract aims to improve response times for expanded areas of the city, El Paso County officials are unsure of what their ambulance service will look like without revenues from El Paso County's largest city; they are currently in the request for bids process.
"How are you going to ensure that there is not only cooperation but collaboration?" El Paso County Commissioner and ESA board member Sallie Clark asked Chief Riley at Tuesday's press conference to announce the contract. "Since you have already signed, sealed and delivered your contract, there's no ability to make any modifications as it relates to the rest of El Paso County," she said. "How are you planning to address that in the future?"
Riley said many of Clark's questions could be better addressed by the City Attorney's office, but said the city would be happy to coordinate services once the request for bids was finalized.
Clark's concerns have been expressed by officials throughout El Paso County since March, when the city first announced it would be pursuing its own ambulance service agreement.
"It could be good, but we don't know," Clark said, criticizing the contract dealings Tuesday as a "closed process that has no transparency except after the fact."
"I'm disappointed that we didn't have a more public process, and that we didn't work collaboratively," she said. "We've taken a giant step back."
The ares's fire disasters and ongoing flood concerns are regional concerns, she said, and require the type of regional coordination that the city is opting out of to save money. Without Colorado Springs, the remaining seven municipalities in the ESA are at a disadvantage for negotiating service. Clark said Colorado Springs makes up about 200 square miles of the county's 2,200 square miles but receives the majority of calls.
"The higher call volume is within the city," she said. The folks that get left out are in the areas that are more difficult to get help to," said Clark. "My fear is that rates will go up in some parts of the county for someone who rides in an ambulance, and they will be paying money into the city's (Colorado Springs) contract."
She also fears that it may increase response times, and adds that a county-wide contract ensured consistent medical response service around the region, not just in Colorado Springs. As part of the contract with AMR, Riley said: "There's a lot of moving parts to this."
"As far as partnership with our neighboring agencies, we will continue to further look for ways to better collaborate with our partners throughout El Paso County. I think we've got a track record of doing that in past years, and we will continue doing that." Riley said. "We're willing to assist the county once things are finalized and done."