The city is moving ahead with plans to set up its own ambulance service because Harrison County has so far failed to engage in a competitive process for awarding a new contract.
On Tuesday, the City Council will consider soliciting proposals from companies interested in providing ambulance service to Gulfport. American Medical Response currently provides service to the county and its cities through one contract.
“I just believe when you bring competition into contract discussions, you end up with better services and a better product,” Mayor Billy Hewes said. “This is true in most instances.”
American Medical Response and companies it bought have provided ambulance service in Harrison County since 1974. AMR provides services without any payments or subsidies from the county except what the county wants to pay in order to qualify for grant funds, said Chris Cirillo, AMR’s regional director of services for the Gulf Coast.
Cirillo said the county opened the contract for competitive proposals in 2012, with AMR coming out on top. The county signed a four-year contract with AMR, which included an option to renew through 2019. Instead, after four years, the county renewed the contract for only one year so that a new incoming majority of supervisors would have a chance to review it and make their own decision.
The one-year extension expires later this year. Cirillo said AMR has invested about $2 million in replacement ambulances and equipment since the 2012 contract was signed.
He said the company also has its regional headquarters in Gulfport, employing about 250 people for all its operations, which includes regional dispatch and disaster services.
He did not think the contract would be open for competition until 2019 because the county offered AMR eight years in 2012. “It would be an unusual move based on what counties have historically done,” he said.
Hewes said ambulance service does have costs for the city. The Fire Department responds to calls and provides emergency medical treatment when it is first on the scene. A good ambulance service, he said, can save taxpayer money through staffing that allows for quick response times.
“I don’t want to make this about AMR,” Hewes said. “This is about the process.”
Even more important, he said, is the need to make sure taxpayers get the most bang for their buck by soliciting and reviewing proposals from multiple ambulance companies.
“With new supervisors and city officials, as well as changes in resources, technology, costs, and efficiencies — much less the prospect of competition — we should be able to realize and negotiate a better contract for a community of our population density,” he said.
Hancock County awarded AMR a 12-year contract this year after soliciting proposals, Cirillo said, while Jackson County officials said they have solicited proposals due Aug. 22 because the county’s original contract and extensions with Acadian Ambulance Service, totaling 16 years, will expire this year.
Acadian appears interested in Harrison County’s contract, too. The company has been helping sponsor civic events in the Harrison County, including Bow Ties & Beignets, a pet project of Gulfport Councilman R.Lee Flowers that raises money for the Harrison County Emergency Children’s Shelter.
“There’s a lot of lobbying going on, I believe,” Hewes said. “There’s a contract at stake, but I’ve tried not to make this about any one provider.”