A local executive of American Medical Response told a city of Independence committee on Wednesday that the ambulance company does a good job of serving the community and responded to recent criticism about response times.
“It’s a balancing act, and we’ve been doing it for 20 years, and we think we’re pretty good at it,” Cam Hendry, AMR’s operations/communications manager, told the city’s Public Safety Services Review Committee.
That committee is looking at the city’s public safety sales tax – one-eighth cent each for fire and police service – which is set to expire in 2016. In October, the committee is to forward a recommendation to the City Council, whether to drop, keep or expand the sales tax. Keeping or raising the tax would require voter approval.
“We haven’t got into that mode of discussion yet,” said the committee’s leader, Keith Querry.
Ambulance service isn’t supported by the public safety tax, and ambulance service isn’t within the committee’s scope, but the discussion two weeks ago drifted there as Kirk Stobart, president of Local 781 of the International Association of Fire Fighters, made his case for the Fire Department taking over the service. He said AMR frequently responds late and the city cannot compel the company to put more ambulances on the streets.
Hendry took issue with that and said AMR’s service rates well in the city’s annual citizen satisfaction survey and pointed out that a city consultant in 2009 recommended keeping AMR.
“I thought it was important that we set the record straight and get the facts out there,” she said.
AMR provided a year’s worth of figures on response times, June 2013 through May 2014, on priority one and two calls. On a priority one call – a life-threatening situation – the city gives AMR 8 minutes, 59 seconds to be considered on time. For priority two, an emergency but non-life-threatening, it’s 10 minutes, 59 seconds.
The city’s standard is that AMR be on time on 90 percent of calls, Hendry said, and the city levies a fine for each late call.
“It’s an incentive to be on time more,” she said.
AMR’s data – 14,206 calls over a year – showed an on-time rate of 92.65 percent, and in only two months, June and July 2013, did it come close to slipping to 90 percent. On 247 calls – 1.7 percent of the total – it was 15 minutes late or more.
Hendry stressed that AMR, which has a city permit to operate, gets no subsidy from the city.
“The citizens of Independence don’t pay one dime unless they use the service,” she said.
AMR bills users, or their insurance, for service calls. Those calls also include non-emergencies such as taking someone to dialysis or moving someone from one medical facility to another. “We have to run everything,” Hendry said.
The company, she said, puts as many ambulances on the streets as historic trends suggest are needed, but said, “We work very hard to keep ambulances busy all the time.”
She added, “It costs a lot of money to have an ambulance sitting on the corner not doing anything.”
In Independence, firefighters provide EMS services and AMR ambulances then transport people who need to go to the hospital. Hendry said that’s a common set-up around the country, though the fine for each late call, rather than for the overall average, is unusual, she said. To improve response times, she said, would require a public subsidy, adding that the company is open to that conversation.
Hendry also disputed the statement by Mayor Eileen Weir and others that city cannot control the quality or cost of AMR’s rates. Those rates are approved by the city’s health director, she said.
AMR is the only ambulance company in the state to be accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Ambulance Services, Hendry said.
“It’s the gold standard for ambulance services,” she said.