ELYRIA — There are more ambulances available in Elyria than what a 17-year-old agreement between the city and LifeCare Ambulance Inc. requires, and the private company has not inflated its rates to customers at the same pace the contract allows.
In a letter to city officials, the owners of LifeCare contend they are not only in compliance with the contract but believe they exceed the contractual obligations.
“We exceed the requirements of the contract, which requires two full-time ambulances, with two others to be available to be called into the city, if needed,” the letter dated Wednesday and written by company president Pete de la Porte said. “Stationed primarily in Elyria are three full-time paramedic units, one 16-hour paramedic unit and one additional 10-hour paramedic unit, all supported by two fully equipped advanced life support first responder vehicles.”
In total, LifeCare maintains 14 staffed ambulances and four first responder vehicles that can be used in Elyria, if needed. De la Porte said LifeCare uses dynamic staging to determine where vehicles should be stationed instead of stationary staging, which is similar to what a fire department does by being at a fire station until an emergency call comes in.
“We know from experience and from our incredible data the general area where the next incident is going to occur and we can move an ambulance to be there and ready,” he said.
Mayor Holly Brinda said the city has been lax in keeping the contract up-to-date and she intends to fully review the document to ensure Elyria is receiving the best service based on the needs of the city today.
“It’s important for us to do our due diligence in regards to the review of the current contract,” Brinda said. “We will not make a decision until we have received adequate information to determine what should be the next step.”
Brinda has said she wanted the city to look at rolling ambulance duties into the Fire Department, but she got shot down by the City Council. The Council, in a unanimous vote, said it doesn’t want to go that route.
Councilman Vic Stewart, D-at large, said he is not surprised that LifeCare is performing beyond what the contract stipulates.
“They are a state-of-the-art ambulance service. This is their reputation on the line,” he said. “This is just another piece of information that shows LifeCare is going above and beyond in their service to Elyria.”
Councilman Mark Craig, I-4th Ward, who pushed the idea of ending talks of bringing ambulance services under city control by writing the referral that the Council voted on, reiterated Stewart’s statement. He believes the city is getting great service from LifeCare, which charges nothing to the city itself.
“A newcomer coming in can’t do what we do and afford to charge the city nothing,” de la Porte said. “No matter what happens, our offer is still going to be zero dollars because it’s a part of our business model.”
Right now, the city mainly focuses on the contract with LifeCare. No decision has been made on whether the city’s emergency medical services needs should be open to competitive bidding among several private companies.
“We’re just not there yet,” Brinda said.
Brinda has made Assistant Safety Service Director Bruce Shade the point person to ensure the contact is reviewed along with Brinda’s administrative legal counsel Attorney Ken Stumphauzer.
De la Porte’s letter was in response to a set of questions Shade had in regards to the contract, which was last updated in 1997.
At a meeting earlier this month, Shade said there were several points in the contract that were not being followed, including the city’s right to receive regular data on response times, an ongoing list of employees and their certification, the right to inspect LifeCare ambulances and equipment as well as records on transport charges to residents. In addition, the city did not have on file a copy of LifeCare’s performance bond or insurance policy covering the city from liability.
De la Porte was at the meeting, and he said Shade’s insinuations angered him although he chose not to respond publicly.
“Mr. Shade knew we were doing all of those things already because we have had lengthy verbal conversations, but he still went to that meeting and said those things basically saying we were not doing a good job,” de la Porte said.
When asked about how LifeCare is compensated, de la Porte said the company actually charges less than what they can according to the contract, which authorized a rate increase of up to 5 percent each year since it was signed in 1997.
LifeCare charges between $47.11 and $276.64 less than what it could had it enacted the yearly 5 percent increase.
“But it not what we charge, it’s what we actually get paid for that is important,” de la Porte said. “Medicare, Medicaid and all insurance companies have a set fee schedule that means we routinely only get paid a fraction of what we actually change. And, for those who have no insurance and no money, we only get back about 10 percent of what we bill in those cases.”
There also is more oversight into LifeCare operations than originally believed. While the city does not currently have an ambulance evaluation board, such a board was created in 1996. In 1997, members stopped meeting after the state started the Ohio Ambulance Licensing Board, which inspects and licenses all private ambulance services and vehicles operating in Ohio.
“Due to the duplication of effort, the board did not meet again,” de la Porte said.
LifeCare officials also regularly meet with LifeCare’s medical director Dr. Richard Hausrod, and EMS coordinator Tim Hughes, both of whom work for EMH Regional Medical Center.
Included with the letter was a list of all LifeCare employees, a copy of the Ohio Ambulance Licensing Board certificate of licensure, bond information and a proof of liability insurance.
Since sending the letter, de la Porte said he has not heard from Shade, but he is comfortable the upcoming contract talks will go well.
“I’m confident we are doing a great job to give the best possible service to the residents and city of Elyria,” he said. “I also think any attempt to twist things around will be noticed.”
Contact Lisa Roberson at 329-7121 or email@example.com.