San Diego officials reject appeal to block ambulance provider switch
The rejection of American Medical Response's appeal clears the way for the city to move forward with its switch to Falck USA
The San Diego Union-Tribune
SAN DIEGO — San Diego's plan to switch ambulance providers took a key step forward Monday when the city rejected an appeal by incumbent provider American Medical Response, paving the way for rival Falck USA to take over later this year.
Falck, a Danish company that operates ambulances in Northern and Southern California, will boost ambulance coverage in San Diego by more than 20 percent compared to what AMR has been providing, city documents say.
San Diego's efforts to find a new ambulance provider come after years of complaints about service levels and response times, particularly in ethnically diverse areas south of state Route 94.
With AMR's appeal now formally rejected and dismissed, the City Council's public safety committee has scheduled a Feb. 10 public hearing on the Falck proposal, which could receive final approval from the full council a few weeks afterward.
City officials negotiated and signed a formal contract with Falck in September, several weeks after choosing Falck over AMR based on responses from both providers to an April "request for proposals."
AMR could still file a lawsuit seeking to block the switch to Falck. On Monday, an AMR spokesman said company officials were "assessing all of our options."
AMR's appeal contended Falck did not have the required experience to submit a bid, that the company wasn't financially sound enough, and that the company hasn't performed well in Alameda County.
The appeal also said the city's selection panel wasn't diverse enough and that one member had a significant conflict of interest.
Each of those contentions was rejected in a 14-page response to the appeal written by Deputy City Attorney Laura DePoister.
In addition to declaring that AMR's concerns either lacked merit or were irrelevant or unsubstantiated, DePoister said the appeal violated the spirit of the process by evaluating Falck's proposal instead of the city's selection process.
The appeals process "is not intended to give losing bidders an opportunity to evaluate the bid or proposal of the winning bidder to have the award overturned and secure the contract for itself," she wrote.
On Monday, AMR stood by the concerns it had raised.
"It is frankly stunning that the city would deny our protest after learning that Falck didn't even meet the minimum requirements included in the RFP and had to rely on experience in Europe to meet the minimum requirements," AMR said in a statement. "The fact is, Falck lacks the experience and expertise necessary to keep our residents safe."
On the concerns about the selection committee, AMR said the company is "confident that a diverse selection committee comprised of healthcare, health equity and homeless service representatives would have never selected an inferior provider for San Diegans."
Others, including the San Diego County Medical Society, have raised concerns about the lack of women or people of color on the selection panel.
If the council approves the deal with Falck, the city will begin the transition process and Falck will take over service sometime within a six-month period during which AMR is contractually required to continue assisting Falck.
San Diego hasn't switched ambulance providers in more than 23 years.
Troy Hagen, chief commercial officer of Falck USA, said Monday that the city's rejection of the appeal is an important step forward.
"With the appeal process closed, Falck looks forward to obtaining City Council approval," Hagen said. "Falck looks forward to providing an improved level of emergency ambulance service for all San Diegans starting later this year."
Falck's staffing model and proposed patient fees will be unveiled a few days before the Feb. 10 public safety committee meeting.
Preliminary details that have been made public indicate the company will provide 1,008 hours of daily ambulance service, a 20 percent increase from 840 hours now provided by AMR. AMR had proposed a more modest increase to 888 hours.
Falck's proposal included roughly 10 to 14 more ambulances in operation each day than AMR's proposal. While the number of ambulances that operate each day in the city varies by time of day and other factors, it is typically about 75.
It is not known whether patient charges, which have increased multiple times in San Diego recently, would go up again under Falck's proposal.
This story originally appeared in San Diego Union-Tribune.
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