Time is not working in favor of West Side Community Ambulance.

A sub-committee of the ambulance board is meeting weekly to investigate all options for future operations - and, of course, the alternative that nobody really wants to talk about, which is that of simply closing up shop.

That is the last thing anybody wants to see happen, but is certainly not out of the question.

Ironically, the way I’m seeing this shape up, in many ways the future of West Side (if it has one) may rest largely on the cooperation of AMR, the company providing management services for our community-based ambulance.

AMR has served notice that it is terminating its management contract with West Side, and has not committed to providing those services beyond this month - although an executive said discussions on that topic are under way.

If AMR walks before West Side has its succession plan in place - or has time to execute said plan - what happens then? No other structure is in place to operate the ambulance, at least that I’m aware of.

AMR doesn’t need West Side, but West Side very much needs AMR to stay on board long enough for the local provider to not only come up with a plan for moving forward but to execute that plan.

I am cautiously optimistic but by no means certain that AMR will extend that professional courtesy to West Side.....mostly because I just can’t envision a provider walking away, knowing what kind of impact that would have on our communities.

We need, desperately, that ambulance service, but it is now on more tenuous ground then ever before.

As for the relationship between West Side and AMR, well, it’s complicated.....but aren’t many relationships?

AMR has every right, quite frankly, to want to wash its hands of West Side. I don’t think AMR knew quite what it was getting itself into when it offered to take over management of the local ambulance service. The frustration of front line management with the attendance habits of some crew members, for example, was at times palpable. And, the initial lack of apparent urgency on the part of the ambulance board in response to AMR’s  proposal that it essentially absorb West Side operations - and subsequent notice that it was exiting the contract - had to have been beyond frustrating for AMR. I know it was to me.

But the frustration goes both ways...AMR is the second management company to enter into an agreement to operate West Side, only to serve notice shortly thereafter that it discovered that it could not do so under the agreed-upon framework. The management transition from SEMSA to AMR was a rocky one in terms of the hand-off of several financial duties. The ambulance board as a result has not had a full and complete financial report in months, as AMR for whatever reason did not meet its contractual obligations to provide the financial services. Not having a clear financial picture for months would hamper any organization. For one that is struggling, the lack of financial clarity is even more detrimental.

Against that backdrop, my hope is that AMR feels some sense of professional obligation to not leave West Side high and dry and agrees to stay on for a few more months......not so much for West Side itself, perhaps, but for the communities which rely on the ambulance provider.

West Side may not be here six months from now. Shoot....for all I know, if AMR throws in the towel at the end of January, West Side may not be here one month from now.

But I believe the provider, despite its myriad challenges (too many of which have been self-inflicted) at least deserves the opportunity to go down trying, which most likely requires AMR sticking with us a little while longer.

If West Side does survive, it must emerge from this crisis an entirely new organization, one with solid, positive leadership, strong management oversight, employee accountability and a renewed commitment to providing only the highest level of care to its communities.

That must be the overriding goal.

If the objective is simply to survive, lurching from one crisis or controversy to the next as it seems has been business as usual in recent years.....well, then we’re engaging in an exercise in futility.

Because West Side, if it does survive, must cultivate a far different status quo and culture going forward to avoid finding itself right back in the same boat.

Dean Harris the Managing Editor of the West Side Index and Gustine Press-Standard. He can be reached at dharris@mattosnews.com or by calling (209) 243-8104.