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Wednesday, Oct 30, 2013 - Last Blog on Earth | News

City officials moving to fix ambulance-contract issues

San Diego starts long-awaited bidding process for services

By Joshua Emerson Smith
- Photo by Joshua Emerson Smith

San Diego city officials say they plan to close a contract loophole that has allowed the city’s 911 ambulance provider Rural / Metro to routinely arrive late to emergency calls.

After significant delays, the city announced Wednesday that it would move forward with a competitive bidding process for its 911 ambulance service. The process, expected to be completed by January 2015, will require the city to extend Rural / Metro’s contract in June.  

However, officials said the contract extension will likely strip out an antiquated provision that exempts any ambulances dispatched after 12 are already on the road from arriving on time.

“The city will be negotiating potential amendments to the contract to address response-time concerns,” said Katie Keach, spokesperson for interim Mayor Todd Gloria.

The plan drew support from the City Council's Public Safety and Neighborhood Services Committee.

“I would ask that any RFP going out would remove the exemption for late arrivals,” said committee chair Marti Emerald. “I think we absolutely have to drop that from any contract going forward, even if it’s a renewal of Rural / Metro’s contract until a new contractor is in place.”
More than two years ago, the San Diego City Council directed city staff to start the competitive-bidding process after the Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Rural / Metro was accused of embezzling millions of dollars from the city.

However, former Mayor Bob Filner put the process on hold earlier this year in an effort to explore allowing the San Diego Fire Department to bid on the contract.

That meant extending Rural / Metro’s contract until June, but Filner saw advantages to moving 911 services in house.

Firefighters union officials said they could staff 47 ambulances, one in each fire station and roughly a dozen more than Rural / Metro staffs at peak hours under its fluctuating system.

However, because the Fire Department participated in designing the latest request for proposals (RFP), it’s not legally allowed to bid on the contract unless the document is redrawn.

Gloria’s decision to move forward to the bidding process means the Fire Department must wait until the new five-year ambulance contract expires, which frustrated Frank De Clercq, president of the firefighters union.

“I was shocked, quite frankly, that the interim mayor was making a move on putting out the RFP when, in fact, he didn’t have to do anything,” said Frank De Clercq, president of the city’s firefighters union.

In the meantime, the city will continue to look at designing a process in which the Fire Department could participate, Keach said. “We’ve heard the call that people want fire-rescue to have the opportunity to bid. Interim Mayor Gloria wants to give fire-rescue the opportunity to successfully bid.”

While some members of the Public Safety and Neighborhood Services Committee also expressed regret that the Fire Department had to wait to bid, others approved, not wanting to rush what could be a complex process.

“I think this is actually a good plan,” said committee member Lorie Zapf. “It fixes the short-term problems that we have. It will fix the problems we have with our current EMS contract—and then give us the opportunity to seriously, fully explore and vet bringing the ambulance services in house.”