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Deal may lower ambulance rates

An ambulance ride in Spokane County could get cheaper in the next year.

Fire departments that cover most of Spokane County have been working together in recent months to create an agreement that would allow for a single ambulance contract to cover several fire districts.

Such an agreement, fire officials said, could make rates more consistent around the county as well as hold the ambulance provider more accountable for response times, billing and other issues.

“We wanted to establish some performance measures and controls,” said Spokane Valley Fire Chief Mike Thompson.

Earlier this year his department was renewing its ambulance contract with the American Medical Response company when other fire chiefs approached him with the idea of crafting a joint ambulance contract.

Since then, the chiefs from Fire Districts Nos. 1, 3, 4, 5, 8, 9 and 13, with the cities of Airway Heights, Medical Lake and Cheney have been working on an interlocal agreement to that effect. Thompson said he expects the agreement to be considered by elected bodies in November and December.

At the same time, fire officials have been developing a request for proposals that ambulance companies would submit to bid for the contract.

In return for being the sole provider for an estimated 10,000 ambulance trips per year, not including the city of Spokane, the company with the winning bid would agree to charge a set rate for ambulance services.

“I think it will be competitive,” Thompson said, adding that a company from the West Side of the state had expressed interest in the contract.

At present, AMR serves almost all of the county. Patients who are picked up outside the Spokane city limits, though, pay more for an ambulance than those in the city, because Spokane’s contract covers rates and many other things that aren’t included in other ambulance contracts scattered around the county.

Rates negotiated in the new contract would likely be lower than the present rates changed in the county, Thompson said, but would not likely be as low as those in Spokane.

“The goal is to provide a quality service at a reasonable cost,” said Fire District No. 9 Fire Chief Bob Anderson.

Presently, AMR ambulances dispatched to emergencies in his service area are not subject to any contract with the fire district, Anderson said.

He likened future cooperation on ambulance service to the agreement that covers the communication system shared by emergency services now.

A board with representatives from fire departments would set the ambulance policy and oversee the contract.

A charge of $10 or $20 for each ambulance call would offset the cost of hiring one or two people based in Spokane Valley to oversee ambulance service.

In the last year, AMR has been the target of litigation and scrutiny from elected leaders in Spokane after it overbilled customers there by more than $320,000 in recent years.

The Spokane Fire Department also has been a part of the conversations on a wider county ambulance contract, and the city has contributed things it has learned since first contracting for ambulances in the 1980s, said Fire Chief Bobby Williams.

He said he supports the concept of different county departments crafting a single ambulance contract. However, in considering whether to join them, the mayor and City Council also will have to take into account the city’s present contract with AMR and other issues, like how the contract would be administered.