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GUEST COLUMN: AMR proud of its record while serving Colorado Springs

By: Scott Lenn
March 23, 2018 Updated: March 23, 2018 at 10:29 am
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The Gazette article "Complaints over ambulance lateness" (March 19) presented some facts regarding American Medical Response's response times to emergency calls. However, a sound understanding of the facts presented requires more context than the article provided.

AMR's contract with Colorado Springs envisions a certain percentage of calls to which ambulances do not respond within designated times - either eight minutes or 12 minutes, depending on circumstance. To remain compliant with the contract, AMR must respond on time to 92 percent of calls.

Although the contract envisions calls to which AMR does not respond on time, AMR pays a fine for them. For that reason, the fact of fines should not be understood as indicating poor performance. Fines are expected, because no ambulance provider anywhere achieves on-time responses to 100 percent of calls.

Of course 100 percent is AMR's goal, just as every high-achieving student aims for 100 percent on every test, but that doesn't mean a score below 100 percent should be interpreted as failure.

AMR's current contract with the city began in 2014. During that period, AMR has performed better than its contractual obligations for emergency calls every month without exception. While the contract requires 92 percent on-time responses, AMR has responded on time to 94.8 percent of calls. The title of the online version of The Gazette's article referred to AMR as "underperforming," but in fact, we are outperforming our contractual obligations.

Think of AMR's performance this way. Our contract with the city requires AMR to be late to no more than one in 12 calls. We are late to only one in 20. In other words, AMR is performing almost twice as well as our contract with the city requires.

The article reports that in 4,200 instances in 2017, AMR "ambulance crews failed to meet their required response times." Those 4,200 calls represent 6.9 percent of 61,000 calls received last year. That means AMR was on-time to 93.1 percent of calls in 2017. Again, the city contract calls for a 92 percent on-time performance, which AMR exceeds.

The Gazette article correctly noted that our contract's terms, which require AMR to pay the city $1.17 million annually in reimbursement for Colorado Springs Fire Department responses, have negatively affected AMR's response times. That's because we're paying the city money we'd otherwise use to increase the number of ambulances on the street.

Traffic congestion is another factor in increasing response times. The city's contract with AMR was written with 2014 levels of congestion in mind. Although traffic in Colorado Springs has worsened since then, AMR continues to exceed its contractual obligation of 92 percent on-time responses.

According to the article, CSFD considers AMR's response times "a substantial and imminent threat to the public health and safety of the citizens of Colorado Springs." Those words are a gross misrepresentation of AMR's performance. If CSFD sincerely considered AMR's response times an "imminent threat," the CSFD chief would not have written a letter recommending AMR to Pueblo in November 2017. Instead of telling Pueblo that AMR represented an "imminent threat," the chief wrote, "AMR has consistently performed within the response time criteria identified in the contract."

Furthermore, the city's recent request for proposal will require the city's next ambulance provider (whether AMR or another company) to pay the city an even larger reimbursement than the current $1.17 million, which the article correctly identified as a factor in slower response times. If CSFD sincerely considered AMR's response times an "imminent threat," we cannot believe it would promulgate an RFP certain to slow response times even further.

Because AMR enjoys a strong working relationship with CSFD, we expect its words about "a substantial and imminent threat" were taken out of context. Whatever the story behind that isolated comment, AMR is proud of our performance in Colorado Springs, proud of our 39 years in this community and proud of our strong and productive relationship with the Colorado Springs Fire Department. We hope it continues for many more.

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Scott Lenn is the regional director of American Medical Response. In 2017, the Emergency Medical Services Association of Colorado named Lenn its EMS Executive of the Year.

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