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New Rural/Metro contract to put more ambulances on NY town’s streets

The contract requires a minimum of 20 ambulances during peak hours, and a suggestion that Rural/Metro pay fines of up to $25,000 for not meeting response time goals

By Susan Schulman
The Buffalo News

BUFFALO, N.Y. — After months of delays, negotiations, and reviews, the City of Buffalo on Thursday agreed to a new ambulance services contract with Rural/Metro designed to put more ambulances on the streets and provide more oversight to ensure better response times for ambulances on emergency calls.

The unanimous vote by the Common Council came after the city’s newly reconstituted Emergency Medical Services board reviewed the contract proposal and made a series of suggestions that were included in the contract.

Among those suggestions is one that requires Rural/Metro to pay fines of up to $10,000 for not meeting response-time goals once, and up to $25,000 for a second offense.

An earlier version of the contract included a $1,500 fine for not meeting response time compliance for one month, a $10,000 fine for failing to meet response time compliance in four consecutive quarters, and a $25,000 penalty if the situation was not corrected.

Other new provisions included in the contract approved Thursday require that the city’s fire commissioner, at all times, have access to information on the locations of Rural/Metro ambulances in the city, and also, that the city be notified if any ambulances are being reassigned, city Corporation Counsel Timothy A. Ball told the Council.

The five-year contract, with options for two one-year renewals, also includes these provisions:

• A minimum of 20 ambulances in the city during peak hours, and 10 in nonpeak hours, up from 14 and seven, respectively, in the city’s prior agreement with the ambulance company.

• Response-time provisions requiring ambulances to arrive in less than nine minutes – at least 90 percent of the time – on the most serious life-threatening emergency calls, those requiring advanced life support; and arriving within 15 minutes on the least-serious calls.

• Alternative transport and service options, created by Rural/Metro, for non-emergency calls that require medical or mental health service but which do not warrant an ambulance transport.

• Rural/Metro’s payment of the city’s annual franchise fees, starting with $450,000 in 2015 and gradually increasing to $477,614 in 2019, representing a 28.5 percent increase from the current contract, with some of the funds used to create an oversight panel to monitor contract compliance.

The Brown administration submitted an ambulance services contract to the Common Council last year for its review and approval, but lawmakers had concerns about Rural/Metro response times, and also heard from a Rural/Metro competitor, American Medical Response, which felt slighted by the city’s process to select an ambulance provider. Rural/Metro had been the city’s exclusive contractor for 10 years prior to the city rebidding the contract last year.

AMR claimed the city’s process was not transparent, and it objected because the Brown administration rejected AMR’s bid without ever calling the company in for an interview to discuss its proposal. City officials responded that the Rural/Metro proposal was by far superior to the AMR bid.

That issue, however, became moot last week when AMR’s parent company, Envision Healthcare Holdings of Colorado, agreed to purchase Rural/Metro Corp., which is based in Arizona.

After the announcement, a Rural/Metro official in Buffalo said the acquisition would not affect Rural/Metro’s Buffalo contract.

“The merger should not affect the contract with the City of Buffalo,” said regional director Jay Smith. “It is my understanding the Rural/Metro contracts will be assumed.”

AMR spokesman Jim McManus released to The Buffalo News a copy of a transcript between Envision CEO William Sanger and the company’s investors in which Sanger talks about the merger allowing the company to improve services. McManus also said: “There is at least a three-month regulatory process to go through.” He declined to comment further.

Buffalo officials, meanwhile, said they are comfortable locking into the contract now, and are glad they put the contract out to bid prior to the merger, when both companies were competing for the city business.

As a result of this contract, city residents will see more ambulances on the road, and the ambulances will get to calls faster, said Council President Darius G. Pridgen.



©2015 The Buffalo News (Buffalo, N.Y.)