The most important quality the city wants from its provider of emergency ambulance service is a high level of care, Columbus officials said.
Columbus Mayor Kristen Brown and Columbus Fire Chief Joel Thacker spelled out requirements to that effect in requests for proposals sent to prospective providers.
The city will decide on July 17 who will provide those services beginning next year. Columbus Regional Hospital has been the primary provider of ambulance service to the city and county since 2006.
The city sent requests for proposals only to ambulance providers who have served municipalities as the primary providers and with advanced life support transporting units, Brown said. Calls to mayors of some of the cities helped determine if the private companies they used were worthy of receiving requests.
Columbus expects to receive requests from Columbus Regional Hospital, Columbus Fire Department and four private companies: Rural Metro, Seals, Trans Care and PROMPT.
The city wants assurance from a provider that there would be at least three advanced life support ambulances in the city; Brown said fire stations 1, 2 and 5 would be the city’s preferred locations.
Brown and Thacker asked the prospective providers to include one proposal for at least three ALS ambulances in the city and a separate proposal for four ALS ambulances to cover all of the county, including Columbus.
Any proposals must have flexibility in the number of dedicated ALS ambulances in the city at all times to prevent compromising residents’ safety, Brown said. She wants assurances that the ambulances can respond to the scene of an emergency incident in city limits within 9 minutes for 90 percent of the time.
CRH President and CEO Jim Bickel has proposed to the Bartholomew County Commissioners that the next provider should be allowed some flexibility to pick up more non-emergency runs that would generate revenue that would offset the need for a subsidy.
While quality of service is paramount, cost is important, too. Brown prefers that the city pay little or nothing for the ambulance service, and that the provider would make enough collecting from Medicare, Medicaid, insurance companies and patients to not need a subsidy.
“Ideally, there would be no subsidy. But if we need to, to provide the level of care that we think is appropriate, we’ll do that,” Brown said.
Bickel said he believes the requirements the city has largely are the same as the current contract.
“I don’t think there’s anything in the the requests that preclude us from putting in a proposal, but it comes down to the city’s selection criteria,” Bickel said.
He said the hospital is fine with the competitive bid process, but added that because the hospital’s figures for subsidies and costs have been public for most of a decade, that helps competitors as they prepare their bids.
And, he said, some of the private ambulance companies could have a business large enough to allow them to submit a very low bid and absorb financial losses here to gain a foothold in the community that would allow them to generate revenue from non-emergency transportation.
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