Colorado Springs officials on Wednesday finally broke their silence on a year-long ambulance controversy and explained why they won't renew their contract with AMR.
During a meeting of the El Paso County Emergency Services Agency, city Fire Chief Rich Brown read a prepared statement which stated the city won't renew its contract with AMR and will seek another ambulance provider. The city has until April 2014 to find a replacement.
After months of declining to explain the situation to board members, the statement revealed the city seeks a new contract that "should be controlled, conducted, negotiated and managed by the fire department."
The city wants such a contract, according to the statement, because it handles 85 percent of all emergency transports and 76 percent of 911 calls within the county.
City officials were unavailable for interviews after the board meeting. However, board members Carl Tatum and Sallie Clark expressed disappointment about the city's decision.
"Some of the stuff in (Brown's) prepared statement, I think was misleading or untrue," said Tatum. "(His) argument is that (the city) needs to be compensated for the five or ten minutes they're on-scene. I believe that they are being compensated through taxes."
Tatum said there is surprise and even anger about the city's decision.
"The city is trying to get $2.4 million from its current contract," said Tatum. "I don't believe they're going to get the level of service they (have) now, for any less money."
Tatum said he believes city residents could pay up to 40 percent more for ambulance service from a new provider. He said he bases that on a 19 percent increase in Aurora when that city switched providers last year.
A medical transport by AMR costs between $600 and $2,500, depending on a patient's condition.
What remains unclear is whether the city's apparent departure from the ESA organization will convince the ESA's remaining 25 members to stay together as a group, or seek their own deals with ambulance providers. Tatum said the members will meet and decide before next April's contract deadline.
The city's decision also could have long-term negative impacts on ambulance availability, response times and patient costs, said Tatum.
Scott McCune, AMR's operations manager in El Paso County, said he's not ruling his company out of the city's picture yet.
"We've been providing (them) service since 1979," said McCune. "I can't imagine (us) not being here. I think we're just waiting to see what the city has and what the specifics are going to be, then we can go from there."
The city left open the option of considering a new contract that would also serve the rest of the ESA. McCune said only one provider, a Denver-based company, is equipped to serve an area the size of El Paso County.
That fact has generated talk that the city might somehow provide its own ambulance service -- using existing fire stations, paramedic vehicles and personnel. However, the city has not publicly discussed such a plan, and it seems unpopular with board members.
"The city just got out of the health care business," said Tatum, referring to the recent sale of Memorial Hospital. "Why would they want to get back into it?"
Local residents shared their opinions about the city's decision with KRDO NewsChannel 13.
"I'm happy with (AMR's) service," said city resident Tami Dabbs. "I've had to use them a few times myself, for my mother. She's elderly, and they've come very quickly and on time."
"I believe it would be OK if (the city) contracted out and did other things here," said Heather Nanney, a county resident. "It would get response to more people."
Mike Olmstead, a county resident, said he's a former emergency medical technician and understands the issue.
"I know some of the (medics)," he said. "I don't understand why you get rid of something that's worked."
The financial aspect of the city's decision worried city resident Jayne Fisher.
"Our taxes keep getting raised, and we aren't getting paid more," she said. "So why should we have to pay more in order to have that service?"
Here's the statement from the Colorado Springs Fire Department: