Ala. City Council May Eliminate EMS Committee or Take Over Ambulance Service
The Decatur Daily, Ala.
Nov. 28—Decatur City Council members suggested Monday changing the Emergency Medical Services Committee, eliminating it or even having the city take over the ambulance service so the committee wouldn’t be necessary.
The council discussion at the work session on the EMS Committee and the ambulance service comes as it considers proposals by the committee to change its membership and to approve new billing rates for First Response Ambulance Service.
The EMS Committee has proposed allowing each member to designate someone to fill in for them if they can’t attend the quarterly meetings.
City Council President Paige Bibbee called the EMS Committee a “broken board.” She said the City Council should consider eliminating the committee because all the members do is “argue for two hours.” She said the committee has too much representation from the hospital, which has two members.
Councilman Charles Kirby said the committee is too critical of First Response and its response times when they fall below the 90-percent requirement. City ordinance requires 90 percent of emergency calls within the city to have response times of eight minutes or less. In the police jurisdiction, 90 percent should be within 12 minutes.
“Twenty years ago, our response times 40 to 50 percent of what they should be,” Kirby said.
Assistant City Attorney Chip Alexander said the problem with disbanding the EMS Committee is then there would be no one to regulate the city’s ambulance service, which has been First Response since 2012.
Alexander said the ambulance service dominated the EMS Committee in the past and the standards were low.
“Things were handled poorly for a long time,” Alexander said. “But the committee is trying to hold people to a higher standard.”
Bibbee said the ambulance service should have a contract with the city that forces it to meet the proper standards with real repercussions.
“They complain about the fire department having to help so much with lift-assist calls,” Bibbee said. “If we have a contract, the city could charge the ambulance service $50 for each lift assist.”
Councilman Billy Jackson said he wants the city to look at taking over the ambulance service, which would end the need for a private ambulance service or an EMS Committee to oversee it.
Jackson said some cities, including Birmingham, Memphis and Nashville, recently started their own ambulance service.
“I know they’re bigger cities, but this is about the health and safety of our citizens,” Jackson said. “Our city spends money on train depots and gives $100,000 to the E-Center. We should be willing to do what we need to do to protect our residents.”
Jackson said the city could end complaints about the private ambulance service if it took over the service.
Fire Chief Tony Grande estimated it would cost the city between $8 million and $10 million to start its own ambulance service. He said this is an extreme estimate that he’s sure the city could reduce as it sets up the service.
While private ambulance services are making money, he said the city would be dealing with the “unknown global climate of health care insurance in which reimbursements are unpredictable.”
Bibbee said she would love for the city to take over the ambulance service because the city would get the best response and equipment available, but she’s not sure the city can afford it.
“The liability insurance (premiums) that the city would have to pay would be staggering,” Bibbee said.
A First Response representative could not be reached for comment.