February 26, 2009 in Washington Voices

Spokane County accepting bids for ambulances

Board pines for higher quality, efficient transport
By The Spokesman-Review
 

A new consortium of fire departments throughout Spokane County plans to solicit bids next month for what officials hope will be a money-saving, performance-improving contract for ambulance service.

“It’s pretty exciting that we’re getting this close,” said Spokane Valley Fire Chief Mike Thompson. “I’m really looking forward to seeing what kind of bids we might get.”

The consortium includes the Spokane Valley Fire Department – which serves Spokane Valley, Liberty Lake and Millwood – and eight other independent fire districts, plus the Spokane, Airway Heights, Cheney and Medical Lake municipal fire departments. The group includes Fire Districts 3, 4, 5, 8, 9, 10, 11 and 13.

Only Deer Park and Fire Districts 2 and 12, which are served by volunteer ambulance groups, are not in the consortium.

Members hope the prospect of a nearly countywide contract will lure several bidders and drive down costs for people who are transported to hospitals. Fire officials want a flat rate with a mileage charge to allow for longer distances. They also envision a system with performance standards based on population densities.

Currently, most ambulance service in Spokane County is provided by American Medical Response. Although a handful of districts have limited or informal agreements with AMR, only the Spokane Fire Department has a comprehensive contract.

An eight-member Ambulance Service Board will draw up specifications for the bid solicitation, but each member fire district or municipal government will have to decide whether to participate in a contract.

If some drop out, the winning bidder and the consortium could negotiate changes to the contract. Should there be no agreement, “we may at that point have to turn around and send it back out for another request for bids,” Thompson said.

Once a contract is signed, cities and fire districts couldn’t withdraw before the expiration date without the Ambulance Service Board’s permission. Agencies that withdraw would have to reimburse the consortium for any costs created by the withdrawal.

The Spokane Valley Fire Department would administer any contract the consortium achieves, and would manage the group’s treasury. The ambulance provider would be required to pay a fee to cover the board’s expenses and Spokane Valley Fire Department’s cost in hiring a contract administrator.

The Ambulance Service Board has representatives of four “participating local governments,” based on the number of ambulance calls in their territories over a three-year period. Those representatives, who will serve three-year terms, are from the Spokane Fire Department, the Spokane Valley Fire Department and Fire Districts 9 and 8.

Four other board members, elected to two-year terms by the smaller consortium members, are from Districts 4, 3, 10 and the Cheney Fire Department.

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