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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Spokane

City’s search for ambulance provider produces sole bid

Spokane leaders may rebid an ambulance contract after no competition emerged to challenge the firm that already provides the city’s emergency transportation.

Only American Medical Response bid on the five-year contract for ambulance service in Spokane.

City Council President Ben Stuckart said Friday that the request for bids was written in a way to bar the world’s largest provider of emergency transport from participating. He further alleged that his questions and requests for information were ignored by officials in the Fire Department.

“For far too long, AMR has been the only one responding to bids,” Stuckart said. “That’s not going to happen this time.”

Last week, Mayor David Condon said he was meeting with members of his administration to discuss rebidding the five-year contract. Brian Coddington, the mayor’s spokesman, said a decision could come as early as Monday.

Fire Chief Bobby Williams dismissed Stuckart’s allegation that he and his administration were playing favorites by adding a line into the bidding papers that said an ambulance company had to operate in at least one city with a population of at least 150,000 within the United States.

Falck, a company based in Denmark that claims to be the world’s largest ambulance provider, didn’t meet the U.S. qualification. Michael Collins, the CEO of Falck Northwest, said “there was a high probability we would have bid” if his company hadn’t been barred by the U.S. provision. He wouldn’t say if Falck would consider a new bid. Falck currently serves some cities with populations lower than 150,000 within the United States. Falck Northwest currently provides ambulance service between medical facilities in Western Washington.

“We’ll certainly evaluate it,” he said.

Williams, the fire chief, said he was “shocked that this was brought up as an issue.” He said the U.S. provision, which was not part of any previous ambulance contract in Spokane, was added because of rules and regulations stemming from reimbursement policies for Medicare and Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act. A contract could be endangered if a company was unprepared for such rules, Williams said.

“I want to make sure from a community protection standpoint that they won’t walk away, leaving our citizens holding the bag,” Williams said.

Stuckart called Williams’ argument “the most condescending thing I’ve ever heard.” He added that he considered the City Council a “watchdog” of government affairs and that he expected competition to be part of a competitive bidding process.

Jason Sorrick, a spokesman for AMR, said the bidding process was open and transparent and that the company expects to be awarded the contract.

“We know the system inside and out. We are the best equipped to provide for that system,” he said. “We were the selected bidder.”

The company has operated in the area for 50 years, has 165 employees in Spokane and averages about 18,000 transports within the city every year. Sorrick said the company’s prime concern with redoing the bid is other potential bidders could have access to information in its bid, such as pricing and its deployment model.

“The other football team has the playbook and now they’re going to play us for the championship,” he said.

In Spokane, the fire department provides first-response care at a medical emergency while AMR transports patients to the hospital. AMR paramedics provide first-response care when they arrive before firefighters.

AMR was last awarded a contract in 2003. It signed a five-year extension in 2008, followed by a one-year extension last year, while the city waited for the Fire Service Task Force to issue recommendations. That extension ends next month.

If the city decides to rebid the contract, it likely will ask AMR to sign yet another extension while the process plays out.

“We’ve signed an extension in the past, and we’ll remain that provider until they decide how to move forward,” Sorrick said. “How many times do we go through that process before we are given the contract for which we were selected?”

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