Columbus Regional Hospital President and CEO Jim Bickel answers a question about ambulance services for the Columbus Board of Works at City Hall Tuesday August 14, 2012. At right is Chrs Raaf, the hospital's vice president of professional and support services. After months of meetings, proposals by five contractors and the Columbus Fire Department, the Columbus Board of Works voted Tuesday to accept the proposal of Columbus Regional Hospital to provide ambulance service for the next four years. (Joe Harpring | The Republic)
Columbus Regional Hospital will continue to serve the city through at least 2016 as its emergency ambulance service provider.
The Columbus Board of Public Works and Safety on Tuesday approved a four-year contract with the hospital, which will use a flex plan that adjusts the number of ambulances serving the city to correlate to the busiest times of day.
Columbus Regional has provided the service since 2006 for the city and the county. The county plans to continue with the hospital as well, meaning the entire county will use its services. The county still must approve the contract.
“I’m obviously very excited for the continued opportunity to provide care for this community,” Jim Bickel, Columbus Regional’s president and CEO, said after the decision. “We all learned a lot through the process. By us working together, we will continue to serve this community well.”
Bartholomew County Commissioners will adopt the hospital as the county provider as early as Monday, County Commissioner Paul Franke said. He said all three commissioners have wanted the hospital from the beginning and are “tickled” that the city decided to go with that service.
Ed Reuter, director of the Bartholomew County Emergency Operations Center, said the next step for both the city and county will be to look at private providers to see which is best qualified to fill a backup role.
Mayor Kristen Brown, who also is the works board president, began looking into switching ambulance service providers after concluding that paying the hospital a $900,000 subsidy seemed excessive and that the ambulances were in problematic locations to respond quickly.
The board solicited proposals from four private companies, Columbus Regional and the Columbus Fire Department. One of the private companies bowed out, and the fire department was eliminated from consideration because of cost. Columbus Regional submitted three models of service to the board, one of which was the flex plan.
Entities that remained under consideration in the end were the hospital and the Seals, Rural/Metro and Trans-Care ambulance companies. Representatives from those private companies who attended Tuesday’s meeting thanked the board for its consideration and said they respected any decision.
The final decision ended weeks of delays that began July 17 over questions the board had regarding hospital response times and other run data that were difficult to secure.
In the end, the hospital provided all data and reached an agreement with the city that calls for it to receive a subsidy of $300,000 the first year — the county offered to pay all of that amount — and nothing from the second year forward.
The works board asked Bickel if the hospital could start under the new contract before the end of the year so the city and county can get out sooner from terms of the current agreement. Bickel said doing so might be possible.
Concerns the board expressed last week led to tweaks in the hospital plan.
One of those will be to dedicate the hospital’s fourth ambulance to stand by when the first and second ambulances simultaneously are called into emergency service. Previously, the hospital proposed that the fourth ambulance be dedicated only when the first, second and third are called.
That change helped ease the works board’s concern about the hospital perhaps not having enough coverage for emergencies.
Another change was for the hospital to alter shifts for its ambulance personnel at 8 a.m. instead of at 7 a.m., when the fire department changes its own shifts. Bickel said the change would allow city firefighters who double as paramedics to settle into their jobs on the hospital ambulances.
Still another change specified that the contract would last for four years. The hospital originally wanted five years and reduced that to three. However, the board decided three would be inappropriate because contract renewal consideration would coincide with the city election and appear political.
The hospital will position one ambulance at Columbus Fire Station 1, at Jackson and 11th streets, and Station 5, on Goeller Court on the city’s west side. It will place its third and fourth ambulances at its own facilities, on Central Avenue and Repp Drive.
The flex model allows the hospital to generate extra revenue by using at least one of these emergency ambulances, and others it owns, to perform non-emergency patient transportation runs. Doing so will help eliminate the need for a payment beyond the first year, when Bickel said the hospital will need a $300,000 subsidy to get the transport program established.
Reuter, who oversees dispatch services at the Emergency Operations Center, said the fact that the city and county both are going with the hospital for ambulance service was important. He said having separate providers would have led to confusion during dispatches and been far more complicated.
“The public wins,” he said.
Works board members Jayne Farber and Susan Fye said they were pleased with the amount of information the hospital presented in preparation for Tuesday’s meeting and with the hospital’s willingness to negotiate to reach an agreement.
Brown praised all entities that pursued the service contract as being willing and able to offer exceptional service. But she said she voted to go with the hospital because it is the current ambulance service provider and has done a good job since it became the provider in 2006.
She said going with the hospital also eliminated the need for a transitional period, which she said made her nervous.
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