Colorado Springs’ longtime ambulance provider raised the possibility that the city’s likely new ambulance company could have a difficult time finding enough employees to fill out its staff, although the president of the new provider hasn’t expressed concerns over staffing issues.
American Medical Response, which was passed over for Falck Rocky Mountain in a recent bidding process, said in a statement that a “significant segment” of its staff “has no desire to start over with a new company.” That might make it difficult for the new company to find enough paramedics and emergency medical technicians to cover its emergency functions.
“We have existing contractual obligations with the county and various local health care facilities which will require at least 50% of our current Colorado Springs employees, and we plan to continue serving those customers,” AMR operations manager Jesse Baker said in a statement.
“Many of our employees have expressed a desire to stay with AMR, either in Colorado Springs or elsewhere in Colorado, and we will work with all those who wish to remain within us.”
Often when there is a switch in ambulance providers, the new provider retains many of the previous provider’s employees.
Falck Rocky Mountain President David Patterson said it was “not uncommon” for new ambulance companies to retain employees from a previous contractor. “My experience in other communities is that you do see a percentage of folks who migrate or have interest with a successor provider,” Patterson said.
Patterson declined to discuss specifics about Falck’s plans or its agreement with the city, citing a request from the city not to comment before their new agreement is finalized. He also said his company had not discussed staffing with AMR, and added that staff retention issues were “completely up to them.”
AMR has filed a protest — raising a separate issue from the possible staffing concern — that has delayed negotiations between the city and Falck.
In the statement, Baker said his company “filed a protest concerning our inability to receive records from the city regarding the selection process and proposals.”
AMR finished second in the bidding process, Baker said in the statement, but the city could not confirm that because of its bidding process procedures. City spokeswoman Jamie Fabos did confirm that the protest had delayed negotiations, as is consistent with city policy.
This isn’t the first time AMR has been beaten out in the bidding. Last summer, they lost to Priority Ambulance, but Priority’s reliability was called into question. AMR’s contract was then extended for another year, until the end of 2019, Baker previously said through a spokesman.
Patterson, with Falck, referred to his company’s previous experience in Aurora after it won a contract in 2015 to provide emergency ambulance services to the city.
In that case, he said, Falck used “a good portion” of the existing workforce to fill its staff, but he could not specify how dependent Falck was on existing workers.
He did not express concern about finding enough paramedics and emergency medical technicians to service Colorado Springs.
In Aurora, Falck used a “preferential hiring process” to give employees from the previous company some priority in joining Falck, Patterson said. A nationwide shortage of paramedics and EMTs has made such a policy increasingly necessary for ambulance services to recruit and retain enough personnel.
“It’s a pretty well-documented challenge nationally to be able to recruit qualified paramedics,” Patterson said.
Kimberly Whitten, who leads Pikes Peak Community College’s program that trains EMTs and paramedics, sees plenty of her program’s graduates become EMS workers in the area. But she said some aspects of EMS jobs leave companies vulnerable to staffing shortages.
“Its a really mentally taxing field,” Whitten said. “The lifespan for a paramedic to stay in the field is maybe five years. We just don’t see a lot of longevity.”
Whitten said the college recently expanded many of its medical programs, including its training for EMTs and paramedics, to “continue to meet that need.” She said she would be surprised if Colorado Springs had a EMS personnel shortage.
“All of the parties that are responsible for ensuring a 911 response in the city are too responsible to our citizens to ever let something like that happen,” she said.