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Decatur may scrap ambulance process

By Chris Paschenko 340-2442

An effort to identify the best ambulance service for Decatur, nearly two years in the making, could be canceled this month based on the recommendation of the city's Legal Department.

A 32-page document called a Request for Proposals was intended to help determine the best ambulance provider for the city and those people living in the city's 3-mile police jurisdiction.

During a City Council work session Monday, City Attorney Herman Marks said he would have a resolution ready by the council's next business meeting June 18, seeking approval to cancel the document.

When questioned about the recommendation after the meeting, Marks said the city's time and money spent formulating the contract weren't wasted.

"The purpose of the RFP was to see what was available in the market," Marks said. "It was the best way to get input from the providers. We're going to make some adjustments and mesh them with the current ordinance."

Legal questions

Marks said some legal questions about the RFP arose, and Decatur Mayor Don Kyle and Councilman Gary Hammon called on the Legal Department last month to overcome any legal impasse and finalize the proposal.

Barney Lovelace, attorney for the city's current ambulance provider, has said provisions in the RFP and in the current contract were conflicting and that removing his client, Decatur EMS, from service would violate its rights.

Assistant City Attorney Kelly Butler, who was instrumental in designing the RFP along with Decatur Fire Marshal Darwin Clark, said the decision was in the best interest of the city to provide the best quality ambulance service for its residents.

"Circumstances dictated we go a different route," Butler said. "What we anticipate is that we will be able to take what we learned during the process. We learned we are not expecting as much as we could or as much as we should out of our emergency response system, and that there are opportunities available to the city to get as much as asked for in the RFP and more.

"We feel like we owe it to the citizens of Decatur to go after that regardless of whose name is on the side of the ambulance."

As part of the RFP process, a seven-member panel in November overwhelmingly recommended the city hire Care Ambulance of Alabama as its provider. The same panel of experts in the fields of law, finance and emergency services also ranked the city's current ambulance provider last among the six competitors.

"It may feel or sound like we're back at square one," Butler said. "But we've learned so much from the process. Am I disappointed we're not moving forward with it? Yes, but the goal is to cancel the RFP and move in a different direction."

Butler said the city is actually on par time-wise with its goal of completing a high-performance ambulance contract.

"American Ambulance Association guidelines for implementing a high-performance emergency response system averages about two years from the time you say let's do this to the time someone is on the street," Butler said. "I know everyone thinks this has taken forever, but this doesn't mean we want to stretch this out as long as possible."

Two ambulance companies, Med-Call and Care Ambulance, submitted applications to the city last month, requesting operating certificates.

The request will be forwarded to the city's Emergency Medical Services Committee for a recommendation. Butler said the tentative date for the committee to meet on the matter is June 13 at 1:30 p.m. on the seventh floor of City Hall.

Unlike the RFP, the current contract doesn't limit the number of ambulance services in the city, but the EMS Committee has rejected all such applications in the past, citing that emergency records indicate there aren't enough medical calls in Decatur to financially support more than one ambulance service.

The committee could make a recommendation June 13 and forward it to the council.

Marks said that if the council cancels the RFP, his department could have an amended ambulance contract within 60 days.

Council President Billy Jackson said after Monday's meeting that it has always been the city's intent to provide the highest quality service for its residents.

"That has not changed throughout," Jackson said. "There have been varying opinions among the council on the number of providers, but the goal has always been to have the best service."

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