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Supervisors Yet to Look at Ambulance Bid

A push for county officials to put its emergency services provider contract out to bid remains in limbo.

Putting the county's ambulance provider contract out to bid—an issue Murrieta city officials had hoped would be a topic of discussion at this week's Riverside County Board of Supervisors meeting—was not included in the agenda.

The Board had agreed to consider opening the bid process for the contract that has been long-held by American Medical Response. They asked the responsible department, Riverside County Emergency Services Agency, to bring the matter back to them within 60 days.

That has not happened.

"I am very disappointed," Murrieta City Councilman Alan Long told Patch, when reached by phone Wednesday.

AMR's contract is set to expire in June.

"I know there are a lot of priorities in the county but with something as important as emergency medical services, this should take priority. This was supposed to be heard in January," Long said.

"Above all else—emergency medical services aside—we are talking about a contract worth $100 million a year that has never been put out to bid. Our voters deserve to know—prior to the June primary—what actions our Board of Supervisors will take."

Planning for the fiscal year and dealing with Liberty Quarry hearings were cited among the reasons the item has yet to make it back onto the agenda.

"The plan had been to bring it back to the Board early this year but a number of issues have delayed the review," said Ray Smith, spokesperson for the Riverside County Executive Office, in an email last week to Patch.

"We’ve spent inordinate time on the review of the proposed Liberty Quarry project and union negotiations. The biggest, however, is the budget...especially for the Executive Office, because those decisions determine the direction for reducing the deficit and affect every service the county provides to residents," Smith wrote.

"The ambulance contract will return to the Board as soon as we’ve dealt with the budget-planning priorities that need to be addressed before the start of the fiscal year in July."

Smith could not give an exact date of when that might be.

A Matter of Timing

Long, a battalion chief for the Anaheim Fire Department, said he is intimately familiar with emergency response systems because of his line of work, and cites an "aging" county system as a main reason he believes the contract should be put out to bid. Long has said the county system is 20 years behind other counties.

In the meantime, Murrieta fire Chief Matt Shobert Citizens could avoid the $350 per call by opting into a $48 annual fee for unlimited calls.

Shobert has said inadequate response times by AMR are putting a drain on the Murrieta Fire Department budget. It is something the department can not sustain for much longer, he said.

According to Shobert, Murrieta firefighter/paramedics typically arrive to the scene prior to AMR medics. The fees collected through the paramedic response program would be used to recoup supplies used by Murrieta fire to treat patients upon arrival, Shobert said.

"Our beef is really not with AMR, per se," Shobert said. "It is more with the county contract. The debate has been that AMR is achieving the benchmarks set forth by the county contract—and yes they are but I have argued and debated the whole time that perhaps the bar is set a little bit too low."

The department has begun keeping a log of every call, he said. Fire captains are tasked with documenting whether AMR was on scene prior to fire crews arriving; if they were not, they jot down the time elapsed until arrival.

The county contract specifies AMR must arrive within 9 minutes 59 seconds, 90 percent of the time.

How Calls Are Dispatched

Jason Sorrick, director of government affairs for AMR, blames the city's method of dispatch as the reason for alleged poor response times by AMR in Murrieta.

"The reason why AMR is not arriving on scene before MFD more often is because it takes Murrieta fire, on average, one minute and 38 seconds to have someone pick up the phone from their dispatch center and provide us with the location to respond to," Sorrick said, in an email to Patch.

"They are the only ones that still use a phone to call us with the address. We have documented calls where it has taken them over 10 minutes to call us. Since the address is not transferring electronically to our dispatch center, our dispatchers must confirm all the address information before dispatching our crew, which adds to the delay," Sorrick continued.

"Therefore, the fire department is getting a jump of almost two minutes on our crews. Our response time clock does not start until we receive the address from Murrieta fire. This issue can be fixed if the department worked with AMR to link their dispatching system to ours, which would allow simultaneous dispatching and elimination of this delay," Sorrick wrote.

Bruce Barton, director of the county's emergency response agency, or REMSA, contends the system continues to improve—most recently because a new computer-aided dispatch, or CAD link, was installed for all cities that contract with Cal Fire/Riverside County Fire Department.

When 911 calls are routed in, the updated technology is utilized to send simultaneous information to public safety officials and ambulance crews, he said.

"What the Board (of Supervisors) has done, on Aug. 16, 2011, is to require that we work with the county fire department and the contracted ambulance provider to get the CAD link up and running and it went live on March 19," Barton told Patch last week in a phone interview.

Barton said the city of Riverside has had the technology in place since 2007, and Corona Fire Department has had something similar since 2002.

"Any city can be involved; all they have to do is have to do is request it," Barton said. Murrieta would just need to send a letter, he said.

Corona fire Chief John Medina acknowledged his department for 10 years has used a CAD dispatch system for paramedic calls. They bank off of the city of West Covina's CAD, he said, and call information is routed through phone lines.

"We have a special tone and they (AMR) immediately get our dispatch information from a computer printout," Medina told Patch. "The technology is there, distance is really not a factor any more. Compared to where we were before, it has been an improvement. We should always strive for improvement."

Currently, AMR is dispatched calls through the Murrieta police and fire dispatch center, located at the

Dispatcher Dawn Morrison handles fire and medical aid calls when she is on duty, in addition to police calls. Morrison explained that when a 911 call comes in for Murrieta and it requires medics, she sends an audible alert to Murrieta fire with the tap of a foot pedal, and begins entering information into the city's computer system that gets transferred to a monitor aboard fire engines. At the same, she uses a devoted phone line to call AMR, alerting them to the location of the incident.

"The calls are simultaneously dispatched—there may be a lag of six seconds at the most," Shobert said. "Perhaps the delay is when we are calling it in, the AMR dispatcher still has to enter it into their CAD."

Shobert said he would be open to discussing an upgrade to the Murrieta dispatch system. Because Murrieta has a combination police and fire dispatch, some bugs would need to be worked out, he said.

"It is certainly something we would consider after checking how it would mesh with our police and fire systems and how it would be implemented," Shobert said. "We would certainly consider it but I won't admit we are sitting here holding onto their calls for a minute and 38 seconds because that is not true."

The has stated it strives for a five minute, 30 second response time, 90 percent of the time.

"From the time we get dispatched to the time we make make contact with patient...that is the essence of what we are talking about," said Murrieta fire Engineer and Spokesperson Matt Corelli.

Long said it is a crucial time to ensure the county's system is up to par.

"The aging baby boomer population is going to require it," he said. "That is where most of our (paramedic) calls are going to start coming from."

Rob April 12, 2012 at 03:22 PM
Murrieta needs to RECALL everyone on that council and bring in a 3rd party audit firm to see where the money is going. WAKE UP PEOPLE! 37% of all employees make over $100K. Librarians, assistants to assistants. Police chief over $200K. Murrieta = Bell
JRS April 12, 2012 at 04:14 PM
Rob, why don't you get a job yourself and stop worrying how much the city employees make and MOVE OUT OF MURRIETA IF YOU DON'T LIKE IT!! I'm tired of reading your crap.
Roberta Wrye April 12, 2012 at 05:27 PM
In TODAY's world, making $100,000 in not much to support a family. Check out what comparable corporate positions are paying and the average would be more. You get what you pay for.
Kevin Clark April 12, 2012 at 05:55 PM
Taxes,Taxes,Taxes, remember April 15th is almost here! Did you pay your democrat yet? or should I say public employee?. I agree with Rob abuse or use of tax payer monies are not the same thing. Worring about what one pays for services is important to keep budgets under control and is called fisical responsibility. I urge everyone to go to the California State web site that lists 2010 actual monies paid out to Murrita City employees. Really?! six figures, over and over and over again, this is the biggest abuse of tax payer funds ever.City of Bell comes to mind.Also on the web site is the "multiplyer"(a nice term that represents how much more money out of the current budget is needed to fund life time gift basket benefits packages..For most City of Murrieta employee "multiplyer" is between 2.5 and 3. That's 3 times thier salary so if you take for example the fire chief salary of 162,500.00.or 13,500.00 a month not including his almost free benefits package and multiply by 3 and you'll really get what the city is paying him. $$487,000 dollars a year has to be put aside for the life time perks. This is obscene" I urge everyone to vote no on Govenors Browns upcoming smoke and mirrors tax increase show. Every single public emploee unions is broke,Calpers and the teachers union.Like any good democrat they just can't seem to live within thier means. All you here is "but if you could just pay a little more in taxes we do it right this time".Right! Enough! Are you a maker or a taker?
Lynda StarWriter April 12, 2012 at 06:24 PM
It can be difficult to see the EMS forest for the SALARY trees as the infrastructural services in Murrieta (like everything in life) must remain dynamic and profitable. In this case, the PROPOSED changes and ideas from those CHOSEN to lead the community are made public. If one doesn't support those things, that's okay - duly noted. The better question is: What are you going to do, be, say to balance the scales in favor of your solution -- run for public office in the next election, perhaps? If the ideas proffered are acceptable and understood as beneficial for the entire community, so much the better. How can we help to make the solution tangible and effective? Stop. Look. Listen.
MAC April 13, 2012 at 02:48 AM
Well said, AGAIN, Kevin!
MAC April 13, 2012 at 03:14 AM
I would suggest that our "clueless" council do a little research. The contract with AMR does NOT expire in June Mr. Long. The first of 2 three year extensions expires in June. The second extension starts July 1, 2012 and goes until 2015. That's already guaranteed if you read the contract which you obviously have not done. Also review your response times. Something else that hasn't been done. In the March 6th workshop Shobert stated response times were at 6 minutes 90%. Now in this article it's 5 mins and 30 seconds? Name the dog chief! But to the readers, please note the word "STRIVE"? That means there not there yet. Are you Chief? You already clearly indicated in Public CEO you padded your times. "We look at all calls". Including those where you never make it on scene.
MAC April 13, 2012 at 03:22 AM
JRS... Rob pays their salary with his taxes. Deal with it.
JRS April 14, 2012 at 04:15 PM
"The county contract specifies AMR must arrive within 9 minutes 59 seconds, 90 percent of the time"... At the same time I'm reading this...there is an AMR ad banner across the top that says "6 minutes 48 seconds" Which is it? Just sayin'? Sounds like they can't make that 6 min, 48 secs happen, so they increased it by 3 mins and 11 sec's.
MAC April 15, 2012 at 01:58 AM
JRS... The contract states that AMR has 9:59 to arrive at scene. The reality is, it is 6:48 as the header says. AMR does not set the standard. The county does. Fire department standards are determined by the NFPA (National Fire Protection Administration). That standard is 5:00 at 90%. Depending on which article you read; or which video you watch, MFD says they're at 6:00 90 percent of the time. Public records actually show that they are below 50%. Then in this article, they say they "STRIVE" for 5:30. Emphasis on "STRIVE". You and I may STRIVE to be millionaires, but that doesn't mean we are. Okay, at least I'm not! If you are, great! Keep one thing in mind. You will see over and over a number that also fluctuates as people quote it. AMR's contract is worth $95 or $100 million. That does not mean that the county cuts a check to AMR. The cost to the county is $0! Out of the millions quoted comes salaries, benefits, fuel costs, etc. Look at it this way... You make $50K per year and someone says "JRS, what are you complaining for?" " Buy that car for $40K!... You make 50!" Oh crap, i forgot! I have rent, insurance, food, utilities, allowance for my kids; and oh yeah, the gardener. Get the picture now?

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