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Texas goes to court in battle to fire ambulance co.

Alamo will go to trial in May after the provider filed a restraining order and lawsuit against the city, blocking attempts to end their contract over slow response times

By Elizabeth Findell
The Monitor

ALAMO, Texas — In June, firefighter John Ingle told police dispatchers a patient he was attending had rising blood pressure and a locking jaw, but the ambulance never arrived.

The Pro-Medic EMS owner said four calls in two hours had more than tied up his two Alamo-ready ambulances, so another company responded.

In December, resident Nancy Shepard complained she lay on the floor with injuries from a fall for an hour and a half and called 911 three times before paramedics arrived. Pro-Medic’s operations supervisor denied the claim completely.

Ex-nurse Nanette Winningham filed a complaint that she was personally involved in three emergencies where it took the ambulance 20 to 30 minutes to respond.

The tales are a few of the complaints Alamo has received in the past year over its ambulance provider, which has covered the city for 15 years, but recently become a political tinderbox.

An ongoing dispute over the new political majority attempting to fire Pro-Medic is set to go to trial in May. Last week, Judge Sergio Valdez granted the company an injunction to prevent the city from terminating its contract — for now.

Fire Chief Rolando Espinosa and other city staff asked leaders to consider replacing Pro-Medic in October, based on problems with its performance, but the three men on the City Commission overruled its two women to support the company.

When the women gained an extra seat and became the commission’s new majority in November, they intensified scrutiny on Pro-Medic. In January, City Manager Luciano Ozuna prepared a report indicating that ambulances had met their requirements for timely responses only seven of the past 17 months.

Ozuna and Espinosa also indicated Pro-Medic had not provided documentation of driver certifications, ambulance staffing, vehicle inspections and communicable disease tests for employees. Espinosa complained that the company lacked radio communication and was using cell phones.

The city tried to consider Pro-Medic’s contract again Feb. 18, but the ambulance operator filed a temporary restraining order and a lawsuit, blocking them from doing so.

The company’s legal filings called the backlash against it “political gamesmanship” indicating nothing more than “the whims of the triumvirate.”

The filings argued that Alamo had breached its contract and was liable for maliciously bad-mouthing the ambulance operator.

Pro-Medic argued problems with its computer software had messed up the reports of its response times — specifically the column of data that indicates what time its employees arrived on-scene.

Once Pro-Medic adjusted that data, it showed the company had responded in 10 minutes or less at least 93 percent of the time every month since October 2012.

During a court hearing on the matter Thursday, attorney for the city Robert Drinkard suggested the data changing was fishy.

But Pro-Medic Owner Jesse Flores said Alamo was using provisions of his contract that had never been enforced as an excuse to damage him professionally.

Flores testified that city leaders’ backlash against him and the subsequent media attention had damaged his reputation and hurt his business. News outlets including KRGV-TV, KGBT-TV and the Advance News Journal have reported on Alamo run-ins with the company.

It’s not Pro-Medic’s first similar dispute. The company filed a temporary restraining order against the city of San Juan in 2010 arguing breach of contract claims.

San Juan replaced the company when its contract ended the next year after fire Chief Tirso Garza said ambulances were often late and Pro-Medic’s reports to the city did not match 911 dispatch logs.

Currently, Pro-Medic is suing Hidalgo County Emergency Service District No. 2 to keep its leaders from firing the company. Pro-Medic obtained a temporary restraining order in October to block that action.

Flores acknowledged Thursday he had failed to meet several documentation-related requirements of his Alamo contract, but argued that wasn’t the issue.

Asked why he was asking the court to stop a vote on terminating his contract, when he had agreed city leaders had the right to do so, Flores said “I’m honestly not going to answer that. There’s more to it.”

“The contract states what it states and if I’m noncompliant, I’m noncompliant,” Flores said.

“So why are we here?” Drinkard pressed.

“I’m fighting for the right of my contract because it was never enforced,” Flores said.

Valdez handed down an order Friday agreeing that Pro-Medic was entitled to a limited injunction and said Alamo could not vote or discuss the ambulance company until at least May 1, and it would then need 30 days to be effective.

 A jury trial is scheduled for May 27.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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