By Claire Harlin
Having emergency ambulance service is a standard of living that many may pay little attention to unless it’s not up to par, and in the case of County Service Area 17 (CSA 17), which includes Del Mar, Solana Beach, Rancho Santa Fe and Encinitas, 10-minute response time standards have been consistently met with shining colors over the years and residents have been content.
But just as you may not have been aware you were part of a special emergency medical service (EMS) district, you may not know that the county actually outsources EMS, just as is does with many other services, and counties nationwide are increasingly contracting with third-party providers to avoid high pension costs and other expenses. Rural Metro Corporation has provided EMS to both CSA 17 and the City of San Diego for 12 years, however, that could change next spring, as the county is currently re-contracting for EMS service — and a change in provider could greatly impact CSA 17, whose cities have very different demographics and needs.
“Right now we have great service,” said Barbara Cerny, who sits on the CSA 17 Advisory Committee as part of the Torrey Pines Community Planning Group. “What worries me, though, is that the county may go with the lowest bid and if that means contracting with a new EMS provider, it may compromise service.”
Cerny also said that a change in EMS provider means all the employees have to go from one company to another — that is, if they keep their jobs.
As a former, decades-long fire department employee, Cerny understands the workings of CSA 17, which was formed by the Board of Supervisors in 1969, and is watching the process closely — mainly because she has concerns ranging from mutual aid to a lack of public input on the process.
The competitive bid process provides an opportunity for the county to evaluate its EMS service and include any new guidelines in its request for proposal (RFP), a detailed “job description,” so to speak, that goes out to EMS providers wishing to bid on the some $5 million contract. Before the RFP goes out, the county is to hold a request for information (RFI) meeting to allow the public to voice any concerns, and officials may also order a third party to conduct a formal analysis of EMS performance in an effort to steer guidelines set forth in the RFP.
A special public meeting was held in late August and an RFI meeting was held on Sept. 6, however, members of the public were present at neither. Representatives from a handful of interested EMS companies were present at the RFI meeting, however, and Cerny said the county’s failure to inform the public about the so-called “community forum,” leads her to believe the meeting was geared more toward potential bidders than the public. American Medical Response (AMR), the company San Diego County contracted with prior to Rural Metro had a “big presence” at the meeting, said Cerny, and they are also winning new contracts in other parts of the state.