Despite the city dropping its demand for a performance bond and issuing a certificate to operate, First Response Ambulance Service officials are now refusing to buy new vehicles until the ambulance ordinance is amended.
The company is also having response-time issues because of quarantines due to positive coronavirus tests and COVID-19 exposure among its employees. The service has had as few as three ambulances available at times because of the impact on employee availability.
David Childers, president and owner of HealthCare Investment Group, which owns First Response, said at Tuesday’s Ambulance Regulatory Board meeting that the pandemic has increased ambulance wait times at Decatur Morgan Hospital and its Parkway campus.
Childers agreed to meet with a hospital representative and EMS Coordinator Ashley England to discuss how they could solve the wait-time problem.
Childers said he can’t get a performance bond even though the City Council agreed to drop the bond requirement from $2 million to $250,000.
Assistant City Attorney Chip Alexander said the city no longer considers the bond an issue. He also reminded Childers that he promised the City Council the company would start buying new vehicles to update its ambulance fleet when the ambulance service received its certificate of public necessity and convenience (CPNC).
England said Childers promised to buy two or three new ambulances a year if First Response was awarded the certificate before Dec. 31.
Fire Chief Tracy Thornton said that, since the CPNC and performance bonds are no longer issues, First Response should be willing to begin this vehicle replacement plan.
However, Childers said he doesn’t feel comfortable investing in new vehicles “when we could lose our business in three months. Even though we got our CPNC, it’s still a very fluid ordinance,” Childers said.
Childers was referring to fines and point penalties that he says could threaten his company’s viability.
If the ambulance service receives 26 points for not living up to the ordinance’s requirements, including response times, the service could lose its CPNC that allows it to operate in Decatur. Financial penalties of up to $30,000 are also possible.
Thornton said he is willing to recommend some changes to the ordinance but Childers submitted so many changes that the chief said it would be a rewrite of the whole ordinance that went into effect in September 2019.
“We’re not willing to rewrite the whole ordinance,” Thornton said.
Childers suggested the city should allow the ambulance service to manage its own vehicles as a private business instead of meeting a city requirement that impacts the company’s operations.
However, Thornton and Alexander said they’re not willing to let First Response use older ambulances and not meet the city's requirements.
Thornton said Childers can buy used vehicles as long as they aren’t too old and adding a new transmission or engine in a truck can make it acceptable. He said he wants the newest vehicles on the highest priority emergency calls.
The chief asked Childers to submit a proposal for how old vehicles can be and how a changeout of a motor or transmission impacts a vehicle.