EMS contract extension considered by Pinellas Commission

06/30/09 Seán Kinane
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Pinellas County is considering extending its contract with the private company that provides Emergency Medical Services, or EMS. In a workshop today, the Board of County Commissioners debated the contract that would save Pinellas some money, but could result in greater response times.

The county’s division manager of Public Safety Services, Craig Hare, says the extension requires the EMS contractor to meet a 10-minute response time only 90% of the time, instead of the current 92%.

“And we can safely reduce by $1 million per year by bringing that back from 92% to a 90% standard. Given that that is a county-wide emergency response time, your average response times only vary by, you know, less than 30 seconds or so. The contract maintains a 12-minute 90% standard for each EMS district and that ensures that we have adequate protection and coverage of ambulance in every district.”

Hare says this “response time realignment” is part of a negotiated package of savings totaling $2.4 million dollars over the current contract. The private company Paramedics Plus operates in Pinellas County under the trade name Sunstar Emergency Medical Services. The proposed three-year contract would begin on October 1st and run through the fall of 2012. The savings to the county are dependent upon other changes as well, according to Hare.

“Transition the emergency medical dispatch to the 911 center. … Ensure that we have a fleet plan to meet current challenges, and ensure that we address hospital bed delays and their impact on the EMS system.”

Despite the $33.5 million cost that Pinellas would pay to Sunstar for EMS services under the contract, Hare says the county will still end up making money from the 130,000 emergency and non-emergency trips each year.

“Expect to bring in, in the next fiscal year, $42 million in ambulance user fees and interest income from ambulance user fees. If we back out the expense of the ambulance contract, will be $33.5 million and that does not include first responder medical supplies or hospital bed delays. The county’s gross income after we’ve paid the ambulance contractor and collected all of the ambulance user fees is $8.5 million. Our total expenses related to ambulance service totals $4.8 million.”

In May, a committee studying the county’s emergency services concluded that a so-called hybrid model should not be adopted because of cost and safety concerns. It would have allowed firefighters to transport injured residents to hospitals. County Administrator Robert LaSala says the new contract is based on the Commission’s decision not to pursue a hybrid model now, and the entire EMS system will be examined.

“Whatever action the board takes I will be coming back to the Board in the next several weeks with a recommendation that we authorize the administration to proceed with securing the services of a consultant to undertake a study of our EMS system.”

Some of the things the consultant will consider will be service delivery and cost, LaSala said. The negotiated contract has a three-year duration, but a divided board asked staff to make sure flexibility is included - in case the EMS reorganization calls for an end to private transport.

“We don’t know what those changes will be at this point. We don’t know whether or not we would be recommending continuation of the current model, we don’t know if we would be recommending a full public-sector model that has all transport done by first responders, whether we would be recommending a private sector model where all services would be done by private contractor.”

During the public comment portion of the workshop, Will Newton wondered if the county would also extend a multi-year contract to the nearly twenty other EMS providers in the county. Newton is president of the St. Petersburg Association of Fire Fighters.

“No sir. Understand, the system works together as a whole, it all works together. If Paramedics Plus is doing good, it’s because the other providers are doing their job. Why would you not extend a three-year contract to them?”

Several of the Commissioners wanted to extend the contract for only two years. But a slim 4-3 majority voted to consider the three year extension if it has flexibility. The Pinellas Board of County Commissioners will vote on the extension during their July 21st meeting.

Pinellas Board of County Commissioners

Sunstar EMS

Sunstar billing rates

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