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As of late Friday afternoon, not one member of the newly created Columbus Emergency Ambulance Services Board felt they will be prepared to recommend an ambulance service provider to the city by the July 17 deadline set by Mayor Kristen Brown.
But board member Roger Johnson, a former state fire marshal, said that consensus might change before the seven-member board meets again at noon next Friday. A decision will be made at that time on whether a two-week extension should be requested.
Between now and then, board members will study the five ambulance proposals received by the Board of Public Works and Safety on Tuesday.
“The top issue this board is facing is how to secure the best quality emergency medical service for Bartholomew County residents that we can get,” said Larry Fisher, a County Council member and newly elected service board chairman. “Now, that’s quite a task we have been charged with. But we will gather more data and meet again next week.”
Local government officials want to reduce the $950,000 that Columbus Regional Hospital received from the city and county to subsidize emergency ambulance service. However, Dr. Jason May, CRH chief of staff and service board member, said he expects that amount to drop by up to $250,000 next year.
“The hospital has made some efficiency changes that will enable them to bring that subsidy down,” May said. “I think that if the hospital continues to have some flexibility in the upcoming contract that wasn’t there in the previous contract, we can bring that subsidy down even lower.”
But May also warned board members that if separate contracts are made by the city and county, the cost is going to be significantly more expensive for taxpayers.
Two ambulance service providers, Trans-Care and Rural/Metro, submitted proposals that require no local government subsidies.
However, Bartholomew County Commissioner Carl Lienhoop is concerned those providers might try to change their terms if either company is awarded the contract. After consulting county attorney Grant Tucker, Lienhoop told his fellow service board members that “the lowest price doesn’t have to be the winner.”
Leinhoop’s concern was echoed by City Council member Frank Jerome, who reminded board members that if you pay less for a service, you often get lower quality.
“We really need to look to see if zero subsidies is really that good of a bargain,” Jerome said.
Another significant issue that concerns the board is the response time of ambulances to all areas of the county. Columbus Fire Chief Joel Thacker wants a standard where ambulances will be able to respond to anywhere in his city within nine minutes 90 percent of the time and within 12 minutes countywide with the same percentage of success.
The Emergency Ambulance Service Board was formed after a 1982 ordinance was discovered that requires the city to form such a board before choosing an ambulance provider.
According to the ordinance, the ambulance board is to facilitate cooperation between the county, city and hospital; to advise the mayor and the City Council; and, “with the advice and consent of the mayor, to plan, negotiate and administer emergency ambulance services agreements between the city and entities providing such services.”
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