Ala. ambulance service appeals $10K in response-time penalties

The city of Decatur requires the ambulance service to respond within 12 minutes to at least 90% of its calls

Bayne Hughes
The Decatur Daily, Ala.

DECATUR, Ala. — First Response Ambulance Service has appealed a $10,000 fine and 10 points it received for failing to meet response-time standards in the city’s police jurisdiction during the last three months of 2019.

The Ambulance Regulatory Board voted unanimously Feb. 25 to impose the penalties.

The ambulance service had 14 days to appeal the penalties to the Decatur City Council. City Council President Paige Bibbee said Thursday that First Response officials asked, and she agreed, to place the appeal on the council’s March 16 meeting agenda.

The new ordinance that went into effect Sept. 29, like the one before it, requires the ambulance service to respond within 12 minutes on 90% of its calls to the police jurisdiction, a 1½-mile area outside of the city limits. Unlike the old ordinance, the new one has significant penalties for noncompliance.

First Response, the city’s only ambulance provider, had an 84.1% response rate in the PJ for the fourth quarter of 2019.

“This is what the ordinance calls for and they didn’t follow through,” ARB member Eddie Hicks said. “Our role (on the ARB) is to review their compliance and report to the City Council.”

First Response owner David Childers confirmed Thursday that his company did appeal and the hearing will be in 10 days.

“We have a lot of information we want to present the council,” Childers said. “And then they can study it on their own and do their due diligence. I believe once the City Council hears and reads the material, it will take guessing out of the equation.”

Childers and his attorney have long argued that the city's response-time requirements are stricter than national requirements, but that didn't sway city officials when they wrote and approved the new ordinance last year.

The city also requires the ambulance service to reach the scene in eight minutes or less on 90% of its calls in the city during a quarter. The service met the in-city requirement for the fourth quarter.

Decatur Fire & Rescue Division Chief Tracy Thornton, who serves as the ARB chairman, said Thursday that the city’s various ambulance services have operated on the same eight- and 12-minute response-time requirements for many years.

“When we had two ambulance services — First Response and DEMSI — First Response didn’t have trouble meeting the requirements then,” Thornton said.

First Response rarely met the requirement after Decatur Emergency Medical Service Inc. filed for bankruptcy in 2014, but it has met its in-city requirements since the new ordinance went into effect.

If First Response falls short of the standard in the next quarter, a $20,000 fine is imposed. An ambulance service can accumulate as many as 10 points in one quarter, and exceeding the response-time requirement in a second consecutive quarter can result in a 20-point penalty. Accumulation of 26 points over two years can result in revocation of the certificate to operate.

Part of the ordinance is the requirement that First Response keep its vehicles and equipment in good shape, and the ARB is expected to review Childers’ vehicle replacement plan when it meets at 2 p.m. Tuesday.

Thornton said First Response has 15 vehicles that don’t meet the ordinance’s age requirement of being 10 years old, and Childers has proposed replacing only one vehicle a year. Childers also asked the ARB for guidance on whether replacing an ambulance’s engine aids in compliance.

“He (Childers) will need to buy significantly more to meet the ordinance’s requirements,” Thornton said.

Childers said the problem is the state’s reimbursement rates for patient transport and the city’s high number of “non-pays” makes it difficult to meet the city’s vehicle requirements.

He said Alabama is one of the lowest in reimbursement rates in the nation, and it’s going to get worse as Medicare does a reimbursement analysis over the next five years.

“We don’t want to overspend on vehicles,” Childers said.


©2020 The Decatur Daily (Decatur, Ala.)


City of Decatur monthly EMS Ambulance Review Board meeting.

Posted by First Response Ambulance-Decatur on Tuesday, February 25, 2020


McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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