An ad hoc committee convened in December to explore management structure options for West Side Community Ambulance is recommending that the agency brings back in-house management.
Joshua Brace, a firefighter/medic who was brought on to chair the committee, announced the recommendation last week at the monthly meeting of the ambulance board.
Two of three ambulance board members are among those sitting on the committee.
The group had been exploring options with a focus on either bringing back an in-house management team or accepting a proposal from American Medical Response (AMR) to essentially take over West Side Community Ambulance while leaving the ambulance tax structure in place.
Dennis Brazil, president of the ambulance board and member of the committee, said that the group did not receive a formal AMR proposal until last Tuesday, the day of the board meeting.
He told Mattos Newspapers that the proposed $2.8 million annual fee sought by AMR to operate the ambulance service appeared prohibitive - but also acknowledged that the expenses of returning to a local management structure, which would involve contracting with a variety of outside providers for services such as billing, accounting and purchasing.
Still, Brace said in presenting the recommendation, in-house management simply offers benefits which outside firms cannot provide.
In recent years, West Side has turned to two separate management companies, the most recent being AMR.
While those companies have provided benefit for West Side, Brace reported, the local ambulance is best served by its own operations management.
“We need the 100 percent commitment to our department. We don’t feel (the outside firms) were able to give that to us,” Brace stated. “West Side has had its ups and downs. We feel it needs that 100 percent involvement to be successful.”
Board member David Varnell, who also sits on the committee, echoed that assessment.
“Not taking anything away from outside big companies that come in and try to manage....there is nothing like having your own people who live here and have something vested in the ambulance to continue making sure that everything runs right,” Varnell commented. “We need to have our own people.”
Brazil said that West Side was at a crossroads and struggling several years ago when management was first contracted out.
“It looked like the best option was to bring in somebody to manage the day to day operations,” he said.
But, Brazil added, “in looking back at the records the most profitable that the district (has been) was when it was on its own.”
If the financial analysis shows that the that in-house management is feasible he would support that option, Brazil told Mattos Newspapers.
“The number is a little unknown,” he acknowledged.
Brazil said that, while outside management providers did assign an operations manager to West Side that individual often had other duties within their respective company as well, so their time was divided.
In addition to looking into the costs of hiring management and support services, Brazil said, staff will also evaluate the process and time frame for bringing those resources together.
AMR has continued to provide management service for West Side while the committee did its work, Brazil noted, so a transition plan would also need to be worked out.
The West Side Community Healthcare District, which operated the taxpayer-supported ambulance, will also review the AMR proposal, Brazil said.
He questioned, however, whether the proposal that AMR essentially absorb West Side operations - while leaving the tax collections and board in place - would be approved by regulatory agencies.
The initial AMR proposal was for five years, with annual fees to the district starting at just under $2.8 million and increasing to $3.2 million in Year 5.
For that amount, Brazil said, AMR is offering to assume all responsibility for ambulance operations, including staffing, supervision and ownership of vehicles and equipment. But billing costs and accounting services, among other expenses, would fall outside the AMR contract and be borne by the district.
The district’s overall revenues for the coming year are estimated at under $2.2 million, according to a preliminary budget which went to the ambulance board last week.