Colorado Springs puts underperforming ambulance company on the clock

Colorado Springs has canceled negotiations with Knoxville, Tenn.-based Priority Ambulance.

Colorado Springs leaders abruptly canceled negotiations with a new ambulance company Thursday after the firm’s reliability was called into question.

But questions continue to cloud the future of the city’s relationship with its current ambulance provider, American Medical Response.

City leaders began negotiating with Knoxville, Tenn.-based Priority Ambulance in March after AMR failed to meet an 8-minute response time on thousands of calls last year. AMR is required to meet the 8-minute mark 92 percent of the time except in special circumstances.

Although those negotiations were canceled Thursday, the city will within 18 months solicit more bids for an ambulance contract, Nicole Spindler, the city’s procurement services manager, said in a letter to Priority’s CEO Brian Gibson.

“We recognize and appreciate the amount of time, effort and expense that went into the proposal process and the subsequent contract negotiations,” Spindler wrote. “The city hopes that your firm will consider responding again to a future ambulance service RFP and we will notify you directly when the new solicitation is available.”

Three companies responded to the city’s initial bidding process, which was issued in December 2017.

In the future, the prospective ambulance provider’s scope of work will be more refined “to better address the emergency service transport needs” of residents, city spokeswoman Jamie Fabos said in a release.

Priority’s vitality was called into question after those negotiations began because Gazette reporting revealed that two of its leaders — Gibson and Chief Growth Officer Glenn Leland — led three similar companies that went bankrupt in five years, leaving some cities without ambulance services and requiring millions of dollars in aid from local governments.

But Priority representatives have defended those bankruptcies by arguing that Gibson and Leland were hired into already-foundering companies in an attempt to return them to profitability. Gibson on Thursday acknowledged the end of Priority’s negotiations with the city. The two entities worked “diligently” for two months to craft the best partnership, he said in a release.

“The negotiating process revealed ways to better design the request for proposals to obtain a better EMS system for the people of Colorado, and we look forward to reviewing the new, improved RFP when it is issued,” Gibson wrote.

AMR’s current contract expires at the end of 2018. The company plans to submit a bid for the city’s next contract, Regional Director Scott Lenn said in a statement.

“The city is making a very prudent decision,” Lenn said. “We applaud everyone involved at the city and at the Colorado Springs Fire Department for their commitment to getting this right.”

Lenn has said the company met its response time requirements 94.8 percent of the time, which exceeds the 92 percent required by its contract with the city.

But Mayor John Suthers said Thursday that percentage doesn’t present the whole picture.

“They get credit if the Fire Department shows up within the time frame,” Suthers said. “So they actually showed up 70 percent on time, but they got credit for when the Fire Department showed up on time … so they totaled 92 percent, with the Fire Department’s help.”

Last year, the company paid more than $300,000 in penalties to Colorado Springs and El Paso County covering more than 4,200 instances where crews were late on calls, The Gazette previously reported.

“There’s a little bit of an appearance that they’ve decided it’s cheaper to pay the fine than to put out another ambulance,” Suthers said.

Fabos said no matter which path the city takes, residents will not see an interruption in their ambulance services.

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