Ore. county fines AMR $500K over slow response times
Multnomah County officials issued a warning in August about 14% of calls that warranted penalties
By Austin De Dios
MULTNOMAH COUNTY, Ore. — Multnomah County officials said Tuesday that they issued a $513,650 fine to American Medical Response for slow 911 call response times, following a warning in August that they would fine the company if conditions didn’t improve.
County officials said the ambulance company failed to meet response requirements in August, including one that calls for ambulances to reach “high acuity calls in urban areas” in eight minutes. Officials said 14% of the company’s 11,577 responses in August were late enough to warrant penalties.
“AMR has the power and responsibility to fix these unacceptable response times,” Multnomah County Chair Jessica Vega Pederson said in a statement.
American Medical Response has been providing the county’s ambulance service since 1995 and is currently on its third contract, officials said in a press conference Tuesday. This is the largest fine the county has imposed on the company, officials said.
Last year, AMR told the county that poor response times caused by the COVID-19 pandemic would improve, according to the county, but officials said the company failed to deliver on that promise. AMR attributed the issue to a lack of paramedics.
While response times fell behind requirements in Multnomah County , the ambulance provider expanded into Washington County in August, draining resources, officials said. AMR also serves Clackamas and Clark counties.
Multnomah County requires that ambulances be staffed with two paramedics, differing from other counties that require only one paramedic and an EMT. County officials said this system exists because ambulances are often responding to calls alone. Firefighters accompany paramedics on 55% of emergency calls, the county said.
Even if the county decided to opt for one paramedic per ambulance, there are only 13 EMTs serving as part of Multnomah County’s Basic Life Support pilot program, which launched in 2022 to alleviate stress on emergency responders, said Aaron Monnig , the county’s health officer operations manager.
AMR provided a written statement in response to the county’s announcement, saying company officials believe the company should be allowed to move away from having two paramedics per ambulance.
“The national shortage of paramedics is having a disproportionate impact to Multnomah County emergency services due to the county’s unique requirement for two paramedics on every 911 ambulance,” the company wrote. “AMR operates across 49 states, and AMR Multnomah is the only operation in the entire organization that has such a mandate. Our neighboring counties have provided excellent service with paramedic/EMT deployments, and Multnomah County would be no different regardless of the level of fire department response to low and moderate acuity call types. AMR strongly believes allowing EMTs to work with paramedics is the only viable way to improve response time performance now and for the foreseeable future.”
The county will consider additional fines if response times do not improve, Monnig said. AMR is expected to pay the fine within 30 to 45 days.