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Harrison County sticks with AMR — now ball is in Gulfport’s court

Emergency responders from American Medical Response transfer a patient to an awaiting ambulance at the scene of a fatal accident on U.S. 90. AMR and companies it absorbed have provided ambulance service in Harrison County since 1974, a company officer says.
Emergency responders from American Medical Response transfer a patient to an awaiting ambulance at the scene of a fatal accident on U.S. 90. AMR and companies it absorbed have provided ambulance service in Harrison County since 1974, a company officer says. File/2011

The Harrison County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Monday to extend the contract for countywide ambulance service for another three years.

That left Gulfport Mayor Billy Hewes, who had been pressing the board to seek a new request for proposal for ambulance service, and the City Council with a “decision to make” about the city’s future with the ambulance service. The City Council will consider whether to seek proposals for its own ambulance service at Tuesday’s meeting..

Hewes had argued that because the contract extension granted last year would expire at the end of December, the board should open the ambulance service contract up to competition.

“I have not had a chance to see a contract or to participate,” he told the supervisors. “I just think it’s good government. Last year we asked you to consider this, because it was coming up, to put it up for public bid.”

The county made a request for proposals in 2012 when it awarded the contract to AMR. The previous board approved a one-year extension to give the new board a chance to extend it to the full eight years.

Supervisors argued that setting up an ambulance service was so expensive it didn’t make sense to contract for just four or five years.

“You can’t expect a company like AMR or any other company ... someone of that size and magnitude to just move in for four years,” said Supervisors Connie Rockco. “So we have them the option of extending that contract to make it an eight-year contract.”

Julia Clarke, public information officer with AMR, said most of its contracts in other areas were much longer than the one with Harrison County.

“We just got one with Hancock County for 12 years,” she said. “We just got one in Hinds for years. We’ve spent a lot of money in this county, buying new ambulances, upgrading our dispatch system, millions of dollars.”

Supervisors also said the contract doesn’t cost the city anything. And Supervisor Marlin Ladner and others said they hadn’t heard of any complaints about AMR. Ladner asked Hewes what he expected to get that AMR wasn’t already providing.

“We still get to calls, emergency medical calls, and that’s 80 percent of what we do,” said Hewes. “We get to most calls before the ambulance service does. What that tells me, because it persists, is that, whoever is our provider, maybe they ought to provide a few more ambulances and staff up more and if they are first responders, I think they’re the ones who should be first on the scene.”

Rockco said AMR’s response times are above the national average.

Gregory Doyle, AMR’s EMS chief, said that the Gulfport Fire Department was unnecessarily responding to some calls. He said he appreciated Gulfport responding critical calls such as cardiac arrest where every second counts.

“The calls that don’t make a difference (with quick response times) are psychiatric emergencies; it’s just console and take care of,” said Doyle. “The simple falls. The abdominal pains. The lady who fell three days ago and now her knee hurts. Those are the calls they don’t need to go to.”

The contract also pays the malpractice insurance for Gulfport paramedics and provides medical supplies to them, Doyle said. He said AMR also has been improving its response time.

“When you can have the American Heart Association say in a public meeting if you are going to go into cardiac arrest, we sure hope you’re in South Mississippi,” he said, “Because of the things we’ve done as a system, we’ve improved the cardiac survival rate to twice the national average.”

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