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What's the deal with ambulance service?
Council's inaction on switch recommendation puzzles many; plan to keep Decatur EMS rumored

By Chris Paschenko 340-2442

After a three-month delay in selecting an ambulance service, the Decatur City Council hasn't decided whether to keep the current provider, which ranked last among six competing companies.

Two councilmen said Tuesday they don't know why the council hasn't discussed or voted on the issue.

The delay is a disappointment, said Dr. Larry Sullivan, who chaired a Decatur Emergency Medical Services Committee meeting Tuesday. The committee advises the city on public safety matters.

In November, a seven-member panel interviewed six ambulance companies competing to become the sole provider in the city limits and police jurisdiction.

The panel, which included three doctors and the city's fire chief, police chief, assistant attorney and chief financial officer, rated the current provider, Decatur Emergency Medical Services Inc., last among the six competitors.

Six members of the panel scored Care Ambulance of Alabama first. They recommended Nov. 24 that the council approve a contract with Care Ambulance and remove the current provider from service.

Council President Billy Jackson canceled a Dec. 18 work session to question the panel's recommendation that the city switch ambulance providers, and the council hasn't publicly addressed the issue.

"There's a significant amount of time involved by the volunteer members of this committee," Sullivan said, following the EMS Committee's quarterly meeting. "I think from a patient's point of view, the decision needs to be made to settle the issue."

Sullivan said the situation has left the status of two ambulance companies hanging.

Sullivan said he will send a letter to the council, requesting it reschedule the canceled work session.

Councilman Ronny Russell said he agrees with Sullivan.

"A decision does need to be made," Russell said. "I have asked (City Attorney) Herman Marks about it on multiple occasions since it was postponed. We are waiting for him to answer some questions about the ordinance."

Russell said Marks told him he needed to talk in-depth with Assistant City Attorney Kelly Butler, who has worked on the ambulance contract.

"He told me he would speak with her when she returned from maternity leave, and report to us," Russell said. "But I have yet to hear anything."

Meanwhile, Councilmen Gary Hammon and Ray Metzger said they've heard rumors that the city might consider keeping the current provider under contract in a combined agreement with Care Ambulance.

They said they don't know a reason for the delay and favor expediting a work session on the matter.

'Two instead of one'

"I have heard some stirrings of the possibility of allowing two instead of one," Hammon said. "I would tell you where I heard it, but I honestly don't remember."

Decatur Fire Marshal Darwin Clark, a liaison to the EMS Committee, and Mayor Don Kyle said they haven't heard the rumor.

"It's time to get the thing resolved and move on," said Kyle, who is recovering at home following his Feb. 26 prostate cancer surgery. "The public doesn't need to be left hanging, and the companies don't need to be left hanging either."

Hammon supported allowing more than one ambulance service to compete in the city, but the EMS Committee for years has refused to license another provider, saying Decatur doesn't have enough calls to financially support more than one ambulance company.

Dell Gamble, director of operations for Care Ambulance of Alabama, said his company doesn't oppose competition, despite the city's newest request for a proposal, which specifically prohibits competition.

"I've told ... Clark that if there's an issue with the other company leaving, then let them stay, and we can be awarded the 911 business with the city and then the two companies could compete for hospital work (transports)," Gamble said.

Jackson, who is the council's liaison to the EMS Committee, didn't return a message Tuesday. He has said he supports the committee's recommendation to license only one ambulance company.

In February 2006, the council supported the EMS Committee's decision to deny operating licenses for two companies seeking to compete with the current provider.

Kyle said the delay on whether to switch companies might relate to an ordinance that could need revamping.

"The question wasn't that there was anything wrong with issuing a certificate to Care Ambulance, but had proper procedures been followed under existing ordinances for removing Decatur EMS?" Kyle said. "I believe that's the question that's been raised, and I'm not sure it's been formally addressed. It's the only holdup I'm aware of."

Gamble said Care Ambulance isn't causing the delay.

"The city's not waiting on us for sure," he said. "We're ready to start, and we could be up and running probably as early as May or June, but June 1 would be good for us."

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