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Hawaii officials suspend ambulance contract change as support for AMR grows

The Maui County Council said it would urge the state health department to consider a resolution continuing service with AMR


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By Nina Wu
The Honolulu Star-Advertiser

HONOLULU — Support for American Medical Response is growing as the state moves to resolve the company’s protests of the bidding process for ambulance services for Maui and Kauai counties.

Support for American Medical Response is growing as the state moves to resolve the company’s protests of the bidding process for ambulance services for Maui and Kauai counties.

The state Department of Health recently selected Falck Northwest Corp., a multinational company based in Denmark, as the winning bidder for ground emergency ambulance services serving 911 dispatch centers for both counties. Falck would replace longtime provider AMR, which held the counties’ contracts for the past 44 years.

DOH awarded multiyear contracts to Falck—roughly $59 million for Maui and $32 million for Kauai—to begin Dec. 28 and run through June 30, 2027, according to state procurement records.

The department said the pending contracts have been suspended, with no specific timeline on a decision.

The Maui County Council on Friday will consider a resolution urging DOH to continue its contract with AMR. The Council would vote on the resolution at its Oct. 6 meeting.

“The Council and the community are very concerned about this contract, " said Council Chair Alice Lee, who introduced the resolution, in a news release. “AMR has performed very well for the past 44 years, as they demonstrated in their response to the wildfires. They know our community and our needs. We do not want services to be cut, nor do we want a contractor who has under-performed in other communities.”

State Senate President Ronald Kouchi also expressed concern regarding the contracts and asked that DOH look “at all points raised in the protest.”

“Emergency medical serv ice providers are vital members of our community, " said Kouchi, D, Kauai-Niihau, in a statement Thursday. “I was concerned when I first learned that AMR was not selected to continue to provide ambulance services after serving the people of Maui and Kauai for over 40 years.”

He said he encouraged DOH to “sincerely consider all points raised in the protest, and to continue to prioritize the health and safety of our neighbors in Maui and Kauai.”

In a statement Tuesday, DOH said it had received timely protests from AMR concerning its nonselection for the contracts. The filing triggered suspension of any further action on the contract awards “until a disposition is made of the protests.”

When asked for a timeline, DOH declined to elaborate.

One of the major concerns is the scope of DOH’s new contracts, the Maui County Council said, which did not include the requirement for advanced life support capabilities for ambulances. This proved to be critical during the response to the deadly Aug. 8 wildfires, the Council said.

Falck said in an email to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, however, that it never proposed or discussed any reduction in advanced life support services.

Falck will meet or exceed current advanced life support staffing numbers and has no intention of reducing those services, said Jeff Lucia, Falck’s director of communications.

“As one of the world’s leading ambulance operators, Falck has provided compassionate, expert help to people in emergency situations for more than a century, " the company said in a statement. “We are humbled to have been selected by the Hawaii Department of Health to provide paramedic services to Kauai and Maui County. Working closely with the heroic first responders from these islands, we look forward to delivering the best-in-class ambulance services these communities want and need.”

Speedy Bailey, AMR regional director in Hawaii, said Tuesday he was stunned to learn of the switch, given AMR’s proven track record over 44 years and Falck’s history of response-time penalties and compliance issues.

Falck also provides ambulance services in San Diego, where local media have reported on response-time failures due to persistent staffing shortages. The company was fined $1.2 million for failing to meet response-time goals last year, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported.

The Maui and Kauai Paramedics Associations said they had no position on any one company over another but voiced concerns about lower levels of care from the contracts issued in the latest bidding. DOH, when asked for clarification in an addendum, said it had no preferred ratio of advanced and basic life support ambulance deployment.

Paramedics are more highly trained that emergency medical technicians, and can insert breathing tubes into patients with respiratory failure, use EKGs to respond to cardiac conditions, and insert IVs to administer life-saving medications.

The associations oppose lowering a standard that currently offers at least one highly trained paramedic with all necessary advanced life support equipment in every ambulance responding to a 911 call throughout the state.

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