The city’s likely new ambulance service provider failed to meet its required response time on hundreds of calls in its first two months with Alameda County in California, compliance reports show.
Falck Rocky Mountain, which outbid longtime local ambulance provider American Medical Response, did not meet the 90% compliance standards in all three of its zones in Alameda County, which include Oakland and surrounding suburbs. That issue is raising questions as Colorado Springs officials work to hammer out a contract with Falck amid uproar from losing bidders.
Falck’s contract with Alameda County requires it to respond to most code 3 medical calls requiring lights and siren within 10 to 14 minutes in metro areas, depending on the call priority, the county reported. But the county fined Falck $372,500 for slow responses in July and August.
“It is now clear there are deficits in your system. Noncompliance with response time requirements — particularly those pertaining to high priority requests for service — is a serious matter,” wrote county EMS Director Lauri McFadden in a Sept. 23 letter to Falck’s director.
Colorado Springs’ contract with Falck would end the city’s 40-year partnership with AMR.
The contract has yet to be finalized, said city spokeswoman Jamie Fabos. She earlier said it would be difficult to comment on Falck’s apparent problems in California.
Colorado Springs drew five bidders to replace AMR when its contract expires in early 2020. As with cable TV companies that use the city’s telephone poles, the ambulance contract provides a near monopoly to the winning firm.
The city declared Falck the winner and said it will reveal how it scored the competitors after the contract is finalized.
Meanwhile, Falck Rocky Mountain CEO David Patterson said the firm’s issues in California were inherited from the last ambulance contractor. Ambulance services in the area were “severely understaffed” when Falck got the deal, he said.
Patterson said Alameda County response times are better than they were before Falck got the job, and the company has hired 66 EMTs and paramedics to beef up its staff there.
“We anticipate significant improvement in response time compliance due to the considerable investment in staffing and system improvements that Falck has made,” he wrote in a statement.
Steve Dralle, president of AMR’s south region, which includes Colorado, said Falck’s late responses in California were “troubling” and could indicate potential issues in other cities where it starts service. But it would be hard to evaluate without knowing Falck’s specific plans for Colorado Springs, Dalle said.
Falck, a Danish-owned emergency response and health care services company, came to Colorado in 2015 when it won a bid to provide ambulance services in Aurora. It also has contracts with multiple Colorado counties, including El Paso, to provide services such as interfacility hospital transport.
In Aurora, compliance reports from May show Falck met its expected response times for urban emergency calls about 94% of the time, exceeding the required rate. In April, those times were met nearly 95% of the time.
After losing the Colorado Springs bid, AMR suggested Falck could have a difficult time finding enough employees because a “significant segment” of AMR staff had “no desire to start over with a new company.” But Patterson said it’s “not uncommon” for new ambulance companies to retain employees from a previous contractor.
Patterson’s firm will have to rev up its engines to keep Colorado Springs happy, with the current response time for emergency calls at eight minutes in urban zones, 12 in suburbs and 20 in rural areas, says a document provided by the city.
In seeking bidders, the city demanded similar response times in town and suburbs while calling for faster times in rural areas, a 16-minute maximum.
It’s unclear what response times Falck proposed. Its bidding documents remain confidential until negotiations are finalized, Fabos said.
When transitioning from one ambulance service provider to the next, late responses are not unique to Alameda County.
After AMR took over such services in McLennan County, Texas, in August 2018, the provider fell short of its 90% response time compliance by nearly 5%, the Waco-Herald Tribune reported.
Those delayed times were a result of several transitions, including a new communications center and reporting and deployment procedures, Dralle said. The provider reached full compliance in November, the paper reported.
Colorado Springs officials sought a new service last year after AMR failed to meet the required 8-minute response time on thousands of calls in 2017. AMR is required to meet that response time in 92 percent of instances, except in certain circumstances.
City officials then began negotiating with the Knoxville-Tenn.-based Priority Ambulance, but it abruptly quit the talks in July 2018 after The Gazette revealed that two of its leaders led three similar companies that went bankrupt in five years.
As a result, some cities were left without ambulance services and required millions of dollars in aid from local governments.
AMR’s contract was extended for about one year to allow the city to request more bids and search for the best possible service, Mayor John Suthers said at the time.
Its 4,200 late calls were among 74,817 city and county calls in 2017. The company met its response time requirements 94.8 percent of the time, which exceeds the 92 percent required.
But Suthers has said that percentage doesn’t present the whole picture.
“They get credit if the Fire Department shows up within the time frame. 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.”
In 2017, the company paid more than $300,000 in penalties to the city and county for those 4,200 late responses.
The city’s contract with AMR requires the ambulance service to pay $20 per minute exceeded on response times. The city proposed a $50-per-minute penalty for its future ambulance provider.