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Ambulance services make cases to council

By Evan Belanger
evanb@decaturdaily.com · 340-2442

A special City Council meeting gave little resolution to Decatur's ongoing debate over ambulance service and which providers will be allowed to operate in the city limits.

Two companies — Decatur-based Med-Call Ambulance and Montgomery-based Care Ambulance of Alabama — made pitches to the council Monday, hoping to gain licenses allowing them to respond to emergency calls inside the city limits.

But the council took no action, scheduling the requests for final consideration at its next regular meeting, 7 p.m. Monday in the council chambers.

If either request is approved, the action will signal a departure from the city's longstanding policy of allowing only one ambulance service to operate in Decatur. For the past 12 years, that license has belonged to Decatur Emergency Medical Services.

While the upcoming decision will not affect Decatur EMS' license, it could give the provider competition.

Mixed response

Even after Monday's presentation, opinions on the five-member council remained divided.

So far, District 3 Councilman Gary Hammon and District 5 Councilman Ray Metzger have come out in support of granting at least one competing license.

“I think we’ve had enough of this one-ambulance thing,” Metzger said in a previous comment to The Daily.

Hammon said allowing competition will lead to better patient care and less complacency from a single provider.

While not saying they oppose either company vying for the local licenses, City Council President Billy Jackson and District 2 Councilman David Bolding say Decatur cannot support more than one ambulance service.

“It really doesn’t matter to me which one it is, but we can only have one,” Jackson said.

In what Jackson called a “very impressive presentation,” Dale Gamble, a spokesman for Care Ambulance, told the council his company will provide all-new equipment if awarded a license.

He also boasted an average response time of less than 11 minutes for the 23,800 calls his company responded to in Montgomery last year and an average response time less than eight minutes in the company’s Phenix City region.

“We are not out of compliance in any area we operate in,” he said. “And we’ve never been kicked out of an area either.”

Care serves at least seven counties and municipalities in Alabama and Georgia.

In his presentation, Decatur resident David Childers, president of Med-Call Ambulance, said his company is already well equipped to serve Decatur.

With Med-Call already operating in Morgan County, Childers said, average response times range from 10 to 20 minutes.

“Here in Decatur, there is plenty of business for three or four ambulance services,” he said.

“We’ve been before the city before to try to obtain a license, and we haven’t given up.”

Other markets serviced by Med-Call include Muscle Shoals, Florence and Priceville.

Litigation

Despite their presentations, it seems neither company has a squeaky-clean record.

Upon questioning from Hammon during the presentation, Childers told the council his company paid a $4,800 out-of-court settlement for transporting a Decatur resident to her dialysis treatment at least seven times without a proper license from the city.

Upon questioning from Bolding, Gamble said his company was fined $5 million in a 2004 negligence case that went all the way to the Alabama Supreme Court.

He said his company was not really at fault in the case but past managers with Care Ambulance did not show up in court, leading to the court decision.

“In Decatur, we call that gross negligence,” Bolding said.

Despite early promises they would be in attendance, Decatur EMS representatives were not allowed to speak during Monday’s meeting.

“I truly don’t want to get into a situation where one company is blasting another company or one person is blasting another,” Jackson said.

After the meeting, Decatur EMS attorney Barney Lovelace said he is confident his company will be allowed to speak during the next meeting.

“The City Council is risking, by granting another ambulance service the right to operate in Decatur, that one or both of them will fail, and the city will be called upon to use taxpayer’s money to provide ambulance service,” Lovelace said.

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