Ala. considers 3rd ambulance service for capital
The owner of an ambulance service that transports veterans wants a license to expand to the rest of the city, but the two existing companies say it would be too much
By Scott Johnson
MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Can the Capital City support a third ambulance service?
That is the one of the questions facing Montgomery City Council members as they consider whether to grant an E-911 license to the owner of a Georgia-based ambulance service.
The owner of that ambulance service also has faced problems with acquiring a business license.
Dr. James Graham, owner of Excelsior Ambulance Service, has had a contract with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to transport patients to and from veterans hospitals in the area since Jan. 1, said his attorney, David Henderson.
But Graham still is trying to acquire the correct type of business license to provide ambulance service in the city of Montgomery. The City Council will take up his latest request during its meeting Tuesday.
Henderson said Graham currently is operating in the city under an exception in city law that allows the service to transport patients from outside the city limits to city hospitals.
Although Graham did not speak to the Montgomery Advertiser, Henderson released a statement on Excelsior’s attempt to become the city’s third ambulance service and why it is needed.
“We look forward to a great partnership with the city as its third ambulance provider,” the statement reads. “We believe our service, which will add four ambulances to the E-911 rotation, will be a great benefit to the citizens of Montgomery and will add additional resources should any catastrophic event ever occur.”
Graham twice has appeared before the City Council in an attempt to obtain a business license.
The first time was Jan. 21, after applying for an alternative transportation license, which pertains to vehicles such as taxis and limousines, City Clerk Brenda Blalock said. It was not known whether the application for the wrong type of license was a mistake by Graham or by the city.
Either way, the council denied that request and told him he needed an E-911 license. He tried again Feb. 18 but did not provide all the information required, Blalock said.
If he does obtain the E-911 license, he will be obligated to enter the rotation of ambulances available during emergencies.
The owners and operators of the city’s two ambulance services, Haynes and Care, say the answer to the opening question is, “No.”
If Excelsior is allowed to operate as an emergency ambulance service in Montgomery, the emergency calls that ambulances respond to will be split three ways instead of two.
Kirk Barrett, chief operations officer for Haynes Ambulance, said the profit margin on 911 calls is too small for the resulting income to sustain everyone involved.
“There is no way those revenues will support three companies,” Barrett said.
Haynes has been in the Montgomery area for 36 years, but Barrett said a third ambulance service could mean the end of the line.
“If I lose my run volume, I’m going to have to take my resources elsewhere,” he said, adding he is asking the city to study the feasibility of Montgomery having three ambulance services.
Care Ambulance President Danny Platt said it is unusual for a city to have three ambulance services. Care has operated in Montgomery for 22 years.
“Most cities have a contract with one company,” Platt said.
Henderson disputed the idea that Montgomery could not handle another ambulance service, saying Montgomery is growing.
District 8 City Councilman Glen Pruitt said he is unsure whether the city could support three ambulance service and said he would turn to public safety officials for their opinions.
“I think we need to rely a lot on them for our information,” Pruitt said.
Henderson said in the event of a catastrophic event such as the 2011 tornado in Tuscaloosa, the city would be well-served to have extra ambulances available.
Barrett and Platt said Care and Haynes have plenty of backup ambulances in case of a disaster.
Barrett said Haynes has 25 ambulances that operate in central Alabama, while Platt said Care has 80 ambulances across the state.
According to Excelsior’s website, the company has been operating since 2011 in Georgia and provides service in Baxley, Jesup, St. Marys, Statesboro and Sparta. The site adds that Excelsior recently has expanded into the Montgomery and Dothan areas.
“I am a service disabled veteran and want to provide a higher level of care to the VA and vets we service,” Graham said in a statement. “The opportunity has come up to give this same level of service to the citizens of Montgomery, and we are proud to do so.”
Platt and Barrett said Haynes and Care already provide a high level of service and that there is no reason to endanger businesses that already have plenty of resources to cover the city.
Barrett also pointed out the price of emergency services is set by the federal government, so more competition would not lead to lower prices.
Platt said because of the nature of ambulance service, the two companies are not like most rival businesses.
“We are competitors, but we work together,” he said.
The City Council has set aside an extra half-hour Tuesday to discuss the issue.
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